A story involving the human spirit and what we can do under the most difficult of circumstances makes for great movie fodder. Add in a talented director like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman, Babel) and several strong actors and you get a film that will get plenty of notice during awards season.
Brutal is the first word that comes to mind when asked about The Revenant. It is amazing what the protagonist has to go through to gain some sort of peace. At over 2.5 hours, the film seems like it is going to go on forever. The length adds to the almost unbearable nature of The Revenant. Loads of big moments result in that it does not grate on the viewer. It is a story of redemption, revenge and isolation.
Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed) finds himself severely injured and in a wilderness that is cold, brutal and filled with Native Americans all over the place looking to kill any white man they can get their hands on. Glass has found himself in this situation after being attacked by a bear while away from his group.
Under the direction of Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson – Ex Machina, Unbroken), Glass has been hired as a scout for a group of fur trappers working in the wilds of northern America in the 1820s. He has his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck – first film), have been tasked with getting this motley crew, that includes a very young Bridger (Will Poulter – The Maze Runner, We’re the Millers) and a shady Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy – Inception, Mad Max: Fury Road), back with all the furs to the fort.
While camped out before heading back to their home base with the haul of furs Henry’s men are attacked by a tribe of Arikara, who are looking for the chief’s daughter, who has been abducted. It is a slaughter as the white men are unprepared. A small group manages to get to their boat and sail off. Glass tells them they are sitting ducks on the boat and their best bet is to travel by foot. It is during this time that he is attacked by a mother bear and suffers severe injuries.
Henry and his men find Glass. He is somewhere between life and death. Making a tough decision, Henry decides to continue on without Glass as carrying him through the tough winter terrain would compromise everyone. Though he does offer Fitzgerald and Bridger money to stay with Glass until he dies and then bury him. Fitzgerald is doing it for the money and is impatient to leave. To hurry things along he attempts to end Glass’s life while Bridger is away. Hawk stops him momentarily and pays for this with his life. Glass, barely conscious, sees what Fitzgerald has done. When Bridger returns Fitzgerald claims to not know where Hawk is and also lies in saying that he spotted some Arikara closing in on them. Fitzgerald convinces Bridger that they cannot escape with their lives if they try to bring Glass with them, so they have to hasten his death. Believing he is dead they kinda bury Glass and leave him.
Glass is not dead and has found his son’s body. He now has a reason to go on. A reason to live. He wants to find Fitzgerald and exact revenge on him for murdering his son. To do so, he will have to wage a war against man and nature. Glass is compelled to go on by the one thought in his mind: to kill Fitzgerald.
This is a film, based on actual events, about endurance. Endurance is what you have to say about Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance. It is one of the best of his career mostly due to all the physical stuff he has to go through. Most of what he has to convey about his character is done through body language as he rarely has any dialogue as he spends most of the film either near death or alone. DiCaprio has to ride horses, climb inside a dead one, get swept over a waterfall, endure the cold (filmed in Alberta and Argentina), and endure multiple physical attacks. All this is done with the camera right up tight to his face, so no chance at a false moment. Because he is doing all this in actual winter settings rather than a studio set you can really feel what Glass is going through. It all has a feeling of authenticity. Raw and visceral. It is draining to watch, so I cannot imagine how much it took from DiCaprio to film. All this might result in his first Oscar win.
Despite all the blood and gore the film is beautiful to look at. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men) provides beautiful vistas and shots within all the brutality that is happening. His images make what is happening to Glass almost bearable. The winter backdrop is seemingly endless and snowy. The punishing story is made endurable due to the breathtaking visuals.
Though at times triple Oscar winner Inarritu is guilty of overdirecting, The Revenant is a film that will ask much of the viewer and is a draining experience. In the end, however, the reward is great. A film that you will carry with you for a long time after the theatre lights go up.