One can scarcely name a more deserving recipient of the Best Actor In A Leading Role award. Stretching all the way back to some of his earliest performances, like his 1993 role as mentally challenged Arnie Grape in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” DiCaprio has delivered some of the most consistently brilliant performances of any American actor. The 88th Academy Awards on Sunday night highlighted incredibly stiff competition, reminding us that 2015 was a remarkable year for cinema. After masterful performances in “Gangs of New York,” “The Departed,” “The Aviator,” “Inception,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and many others, Lenardo DiCaprio’s name was finally inside that envelope.
“The Revenant” is a unique film in a lot of ways, but what’s most interesting is how common – even boring – the story really is. Based on historical figures, the narrative travels down a well-worn path. The principal character is betrayed, overcomes great obstacles, and exacts his revenge – nothing too terribly complicated. It’s something in the movement of the camera, of the locations, of the orchestra, the cello being treated almost percussively – hinting at the danger, solitude, and sadness of the film – that leaves the viewer feeling awakened, disturbed, saved. The transcendental tale and panoramic vistas remind us of how beautiful and dangerous this world is.
There is something spiritual about “The Revenant,” about watching Hugh Glass, mortally wounded, crossing the snow-capped mountains. He is a single-minded character with only one motive: bring his son’s murderer to justice. Once he has accomplished this goal – as we already knew he would – we watch him stare onward for a moment. We cannot tell if there is satisfaction in his vengeance, if he has found peace. It is this ambiguity that stays with us after exiting the theater. We aren’t told how we’re supposed to feel about the movie. We’re left to think about it and come to our own conclusion.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu likewise earned his statue for best director. He respects his audience. He challenges his audience, but does so without pulling punches or treating us cavalierly. He’s a leader who doesn’t take the audience on an amusement park ride; we don’t fasten our belts and wait for it to eventually end. He takes us on a hike, on a rafting expedition; we have to use our own muscles to get through it to the other end.
We live in a golden age of film and television and “The Revenant” is a noble addition.