Synopsis – A frontiersman named Hugh Glass on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s is on a quest for survival after being brutally mauled by a bear.
My Take – I could not ask for a better way of beginning 2016 that is for sure. For those of you looking for an action movie, move along. This is another artsy movie from Alejandro Gonzalez-Innaritu, the director of last year’s smash hit Birdman (read the review here). But what makes this film a must watch is that it works well around its story, scenarios, actors’ interpretations, & the direction. The scenario that serves the film is absolutely astonishing and creates in the spectator the desire of being there. The snow, the rivers, the falls, even the storms are incredibly beautiful. All their beauty is well capture in the screen and only raised the magnificence of the movie. On top of that, all the scenes with the animals are also incredible. Even if you know that they might be virtual, because some scenes tend to be brutal and violent. What is quite surprising, and most incredible about this movie, is Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s given one earth-shattering performance after another, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, he appears in this. He just tortures himself. Crawling in the snow with his bare fingers, chowing down on bloody deer meat, sleeping inside a warm horse. He’s simply fantastic. If he doesn’t win the Oscar this year, he’ll never win one. Evidently, director Alejandro González Iñárritu is not one to rest on his laurels. Having won last year’s Best Picture and Best Director for Birdman, I can’t even imagine what sort of pressure Iñárritu underwent to remain consistent but it shows. Painstakingly crafted and expertly told, this film is a visceral engagement of the senses unlike anything we have seen from the director. There have been survival dramas in the past, and the closest equivalent I can think of is “Jeremiah Johnson” (1972), whose titular character was played by Robert Redford. A similar theme of vengeance against those who wronged and murdered his adopted native family is central, as well as the poignant ending. Yet this film is refreshingly wholistic approach that I found to be the film’s biggest accomplishment: it depicts the people in this story as just another species trying to survive in that perilous frontier-world.
The emphasis is not really on the moral aspects of the brutal injustice that the main character suffers or how the Native Americans are cruelly exploited; we witness all that – but Iñarritu keeps a certain distance, as if he were shooting a documentary about predatory wildlife. And just like the bear’s attack, most of the violence in this film comes as a reaction of defense. Be it self-defense, defending one’s offspring or defending territory and valuable resources. Even the character that comes closest to an actual villain is driven by fear – not hate, and his most obvious character defects were caused by a very traumatizing experience. Co-scripted by Iñárritu, this partly based true story follows frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a group of fur trappers set in the icy wilderness of 1820s South Dakota. In a breathtaking opening montage, Glass and his hunting party are ambushed by Native-American Arikara Indians. Outnumbered and chased by the Arikara, the group decides to return to base with Glass being the navigator. Expedition member John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) disagrees with the plan and an instant enmity is born. Between increasing hostility on their way back, Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear in what has to be one of the most brutal, terrifying and uncut scenes in a film. Having barely survived the attack, and certain that Glass won’t make it back alive, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) orders Fitzgerald to lead the expedition back. Glass’s half Native-American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and another young man Bridger (Will Poulter) are tasked with staying behind and ensuring a proper burial. But when Fitzgerald volunteers to stay behind too, it’s obvious to the viewer that no good deed can from this. Thus begins a traumatic tale of survival but also revenge when Glass learns of Fitzgerald’s heinous intentions. At little over 150 minutes, this is a long film and not for everyone. From cauterizing his wounds to what Glass must do to survive, Iñárritu‘s remarkable achievement in this film is his relentless method of conveying the unthinkable. While the sheer audio-visual experience is consistently mind-blowing, it comes down to Emmanuel Lubezki‘s cinematography as the single most significant aspect of this film. From tracking shots of landscapes to a character’s widening pupils by a camp fire, the soul of this film is undeniably in its visual appeal. Such is the astounding nature of his shots that the only other way to describe it is as if the lens is omnipresent. After consecutive Academy Awards for Gravity and Birdman, it won’t be surprising if Lubezki is in for hat-trick. The initial Indian attack is shocking probably because it doesn’t contain the usual Hollywood hallmarks of close-ups and quick edits and is genuinely shocking. He also films a bear attack that had me falling out of my seat gasping “How’d he do that ? ” because it looks like it was done in one take with a star actor , not a stuntman , being savaged by a real bear .
Indeed I never got the sensation I was watching a bunch of actors appearing in a movie which is miraculous considering the big name prolific cast but real characters trying to survive the twin cruelties of the natural world and human nature. The film isn’t without the occasional flaw. Inarritu overplays his hand sometimes and the art-house credentials are a bit overdone. I think the problem with the film lies more with the script, also co-written by Iñárritu. The film lacks balance in its storytelling. I love the brutal, raw, grittiness of the story and you certainly feel the intensity in those scenes. But the minimal dialogue and in Tom Hardy‘s case, sometimes inaudible dialogue, you sometimes lose the emotional connection to the characters. But what transforms this film into something of another level are the actors. The performance of Leonardo DiCaprio was absolutely incredible. I have already heard that 2015 could be the year for DiCaprio, and I have to beef up that idea because he has a role that is out of this world. The evolution in the screen is incredible since he passes from a relatively calm guy with a dark past to a vengeful man with fire in his eyes. And the spectator will share with him all the anger and desire for blood. But in the end we learned a lesson, and in my opinion that is all what matters when you see a movie: what you take home. Between extreme cold conditions and eating raw meat, this is DiCaprio in his most challenging delivery. And although he doesn’t say much, his role is physically demanding to such an extent, they might as well hand him an Oscar for exhibiting a genuine impetus to do just about anything. There are particular scenes that enhance the spectacular performance of DiCaprio but in the end I have to say that all the picture is set to finally Leonardo DiCaprio become an Oscar winner. And what could I say about Tom Hardy? Oh my god! If Hugh Glass become only alive because of an incredible Leonardo DiCaprio, John Fitzgerald only make sense with Tom Hardy. If you will love Glass, you will hate Fitzgerald. And all the love and hate are only possible because not just DiCaprio is astonishing, Tom Hardy blew up in this movie and features one of the best performances that I have already seen from him. At the beginning Fitzgerald is only a mere pawn but as the action developed, you understand is role on the movie that culminates with an astonishing class with Glass. Domhnall Gleeson & Will Poulter provide good support. On the whole, ‘The Revenant’ is both brilliant & disturbing, even with its somber tone and length, there isn’t a single dull moment. If anything, the entire film is an exhaustive experience but positively riveting, terrifying, and haunting topped by some exceptional performances.
Director – Alejandro González Iñárritu
Rated – R
Run Time – 156 minutes