Unfortunately for Leonardo DiCaprio, most of what makes The Revenant a movie that people should be going to see does not involve him. Make no mistake, DiCaprio's remarkably dedicated performance--which involved eating a bison liver despite being a vegetarian, as well as learning how to fire a musket, build a fire and speak two American Indian languages--is impressive. However, the film's power is primarily derived from the breathtaking cinematography, evocative music and the stirring performances of those around DiCaprio.

Set in the brutally beautiful American frontier of the 1820s and inspired by true events, the film follows a group of fur trappers making their way back to Fort Kiowa in North Dakota. Among the group are the morally righteous Captain Andrew Henry (portrayed with verve by the exceptional Domhnall Gleeson), the disturbing and bigoted scalping survivor John Fitzgerald (depicted in award-worthy fashion by the indomitable Tom Hardy), as well as DiCaprio's Hugh Glass and his half-Pawnee Indian son, Hawk (who is played well by newcomer Forrest Goodluck).

While making their way to the fort, Glass is mauled by a bear in one of the year's most incredible sequences, one that lacks a peer in cinema. When a gravely injured Glass is left behind with Fitzgerald, Hawk and another youngster named Bridger (portrayed with exceptional complexity by Will Poulter), Fitzgerald wastes no time in manipulating the situation to leave Glass for dead in pursuit of a big payday. But overwhelmed by a lust for revenge, Glass pulls himself from his shallow grave and begins an exhausting journey (both for himself and the audience) across the American frontier in pursuit of the man who wronged him.

The story is fairly straightforward, but compelling for most of the film's two-and-a-half-hour runtime, though the end does veer off course and creates a needlessly cliché conclusion that seeks to derail the movie. However, with Hardy disappearing into his role and the film's other stars, including a remarkable host of American Indian actors who steal every scene they are in as the greatly feared Arikara tribe, the plot is kept moving forward.

For his part, DiCaprio rarely speaks, instead grunting, screaming and moaning as he is battered around the great expanses of the American West. For a large part of the film, audiences get to watch the star more or less have the shit kicked out of him, either by people or by the wilderness. It is a powerful, but emotionally draining watch that is hard to forget.

However, some debate has arisen as to whether or not DiCaprio will ultimately receive his greatly coveted Best Actor trophy at the upcoming Academy Awards, as some have claimed that his role isn't so much acting as it is surviving. But considering The Revenant is a movie and his surviving is feigned, but convincing, the distinction seems to be moot to me. Also, competition for the award does not seem particularly stiff and his method acting practices are the stuff of legend. If DiCaprio does not take home the award, it might be hard to ever see him winning one.

Sadly for DiCaprio, it could happen. Despite not being nominated at the Golden Globes for his supporting role, it is hard to deny that Hardy is the scene-stealer of The Revenant. Granted, he is given more to work with as his scenes are largely with other people, but Hardy is truly unidentifiable in his role unless one already knows he is among the cast.

Still, the true stars of The Revenant are largely behind the scenes. Ryuichi Sakamoto delivers an award-worthy score, full of stirring and tense arrangements that propel the movie forward. But Emmanuel Lubezki, the winner of the past two Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, delivers the best performance of the film by committing his most stunning work yet to The Revenant.

The juxtaposition of absolutely breathtaking landscapes with the film's brutal violence is striking enough, but the film's action sequences are where Lubezki's talents truly shine. Following up on his work on last year's Birdman, also directed by this film's director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the scenes make extensive use of incredible tense single-take shots. The camera typically stays close to protagonists, spinning and swerving around them and the trees in order to create a feeling of disorientation and unawareness as enemies can (and typically do) strike from the shadows. The Revenant may contain the most beautifully constructed action scenes since 2006's Children Of Men, another film shot by Lubezki.

While the film's plot and its complexities are fairly limited, this is a movie principally driven by characters, atmosphere and direction. On these standards, The Revenant is indisputably exceptional. It may not be the year's best film, but it is certainly one of its better ones and easily the most beautiful. For DiCaprio, one can only hope that the film's beauty or Tom Hardy do not overshadow his achievements and keep from that elusive Best Actor award.