Film Review: "The Revenant"

Alejandro G. Iñarritú's latest film, The Revenant, is one of the most hotly-anticipated films of 2015, for many reasons, not least because it's his follow-up to his Best Picture-winner, BirdmanThe Revenant is based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a trapper who struggled to survive after the men from his team left him for dead after a bear attack.

The film is relentlessly brutal and features a powerful, nearly-wordless performance by Leonardo DiCaprio who is poised to win his first Oscar for this role. The opening 40 minutes of the film are stunning, and the final portion of the film is also full of amazement. The middle portion of the film could have been trimmed, as it becomes intermittently tedious, but as an overall experience, The Revenant is an impressive piece of filmmaking by one of the most ambitious filmmakers working today.

NYU students had the good fortune to screen the film on December 3 followed by a Q&A with co-screenwriter Mark L. Smith, moderated by Professor Harry Winer. Smith said that the producers at Anonymous Content gave him the book in 2007, and he was immediately taken with the character of Glass and his journey. He wrote a draft of the screenplay on spec after attempting to pitch it to studios. This draft began with 35 pages of no dialogue. 

The film is based on a book by Michael Punke, who is currently an ambassador in Geneva. Smith only took a few elements from the book and created the rest himself. He wanted to begin the film with a battle sequence to hook the audience (it's one of the most awe-inspiring sequences I've seen this year) and stressed the father-son element of the story since the world of the film is so cold, both physically and emotionally.

Initially, Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) was slated to direct with Samuel L. Jackson starring. Then, John Hillcoat (The RoadLawless) was going to direct with Christian Bale in the lead. After a while, Leonardo DiCaprio became interested in the project, but wouldn't come aboard without an attached director. When the funding for The Wolf of Wall Street came through, DiCaprio had to exit the project temporarily, which caused The Revenant to be delayed further. Meanwhile, Birdman came about for Iñarritú because he had, according to Smith, "that little window" of time.

Smith described the eight-year journey to get The Revenant made as "[a] Hugh Glassian journey of Hollywood pain." But, the journey is already proving itself to be worth it, as the film has been acclaimed by critics and nominated for numerous awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Drama) and the SAG and Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor. The film is in limited release December 25 followed by a wide release on January 8. 

Joshua Handler is a student in the NYU/Tisch Undergraduate Film and TV Department from the class of 2016.