The sound design is certainly one of the most outstanding things here, and the breath of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass as the principal piece of audio is definitely a strong choice. Instead of DiCaprio getting by on looks and charm, or through use of his voice, Iñárritu and his co-writers gave DiCaprio next-to-no dialogue and force him to rely on his breathing and grunting to convey practically everything.
Of course, Iñárritu doesn’t limit himself to great sound design. He loves to shove the camera directly into the faces of his actors. He doesn’t just zoom-in for the close-up. He literally places the camera millimeters from their noses. Just as Alfonso Cuarón impressed with his splattering of blood on the screen, Iñárritu impresses with DiCaprio’s breath fogging the lens.
It helps that he filmed in the actual, crackling cold of Calgary. When DiCaprio shivers, it’s not just good acting, which it is. It’s the filmmaker really throwing his cast into the freezing temperatures. In a reversal of a pivotal moment from Titantic (1997), it’s DiCaprio who wakes up next to a frozen corpse, but, unlike the falseness of being in a studio, the ice dangling off DiCaprio’s beard feels absolutely real.
After taking a queue from Terence Malick in order to craft his opening sequence, Iñárritu attempts to copy Malick’s lyrical beauty as well as his spiritual faith. His camera is constantly looking into the sky, constantly spinning 360-degrees. If anything, he mimics The New World (2005) but doesn’t engage solely in the clash of cultures.
Unlike Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, this is the movie that should have been filmed in 70mm. Iñárritu makes this movie all about the beautiful yet harsh landscape. The clashing culture mixed with the brutality of the winter, mountainous climate make for a compelling back-drop. Add to that human greed and selfishness on top of the will to live and it also makes for a thrilling adventure. The wide-open shots of which and vast vistas can barely encapsulate it all, while Tarantino’s yarn is needlessly encapsulated. Tarantino doesn’t dare take his camera where Iñárritu does.
That being said, the film goes on for way too long. The running length and its indulgences make this film dull and the middle section boring, which could be fine, but 40 minutes to a hour of boredom is a problem for me.
The film builds to an inevitable confrontation between DiCaprio’s character and John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy (pictured below). Watching DiCaprio literally crawl his way to that confrontation gets boring. Certainly, his survival tactics get repetitive. He lives through everything. He’s almost a super-hero, or overly lucky. There’s even a callback to The Empire Strikes Back, and surviving the snow in the body of an animal.
That 1980 film didn’t over-stay its welcome. Both do culminate in a mano-a-mano fight. Instead of light-sabers, there’s a large knife and a tiny hatchet here. It’s long, intense and very bloody. It’s an absolute expression of masculine aggression, but perhaps not. There is another long, intense and very bloody fight, and it’s between DiCaprio and a female. That female just so happened to be a bear, and no, it wasn’t a sexual assault!
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong combat and violence, gory images, language and brief nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 36 mins.