SilentDawn’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, is a masterclass in portraying a sense of an untamed yet euphoric setting. Its grimy and increasingly mythical landscape contrast with serene Digital images, showcasing a vast environment with a conflicted aura of inhospitable wilderness and the tantalizing search for greed and power. With Emmanuel Lubezki at the helm as DP, and armed with the Arri Alexa 65, the result is a gigantic adventure with a scope as wide as its constant lens choice, but sadly miscalculated when it comes to core story components.
Its ultimately disappointing to think, after all the horror stories involved in production, that something so misguided can result from such obvious turmoil, but most of the issues revolving in The Revenant can be found in its terribly overwritten screenplay, which is funny considering the distinct lack of dialogue in the middle section. If AGI isn't giving a particularly theatrical performance (Tom Hardy is a fucking beast here) a monologue about God, then he's throwing in dream sequences that aren't even remotely given any foundation in the story. It's quite disjointed, but never in the sense that the filmmakers tried to save it in the editing room.
Instead, The Revenant is more of an endurance test, especially because AGI seemingly just assumes that the audience will connect to Hugh's plight instantly. The very first scene, comprised of burning villages and magical realism, sets the tone for a film that is constantly at odds with its visceral moment-to-moment horror, never connecting into a cohesive whole and morphing a simplistic tale into one that has so much to say and strangely ends up saying nothing at all.
And yet, The Revenant is undeniably impressive in its set-piece moments. Indian attacks, bear encounters, coyotes, buffaloes, waterfalls, throat piercings; It's all grotesque and gnarly, pushing actors into a state of expansive live-theater, with long shot set-ups propelling intimacy and a deep-rooted primal vision into your eyeballs without submission. Jack Fisk's production design is otherworldly in its grime, but wonderfully authentic and lived-in, and it sells most of the truth that occurs throughout the images.
In the end, however, It's exhausting, and by the two hour mark, "big" moments happen without a hitch because the audience is so accustomed to AGI's particular brand of misery porn. With Birdman, I was hoping that Inarritu was on a new path, but he's still stuck with the same ART! ART! ART! mentality and unwilling to back any visual prowess with genuine significance. Its final shot, as ambiguous and inherently gorgeous as it is, should exemplify whether Inarittu sold you on the journey or not. Sadly, I was left back in the wilderness, soaking up the beauty but not giving a fuck about anything else.