MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Adventure-Drama-Thriller/ Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleason, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Brendan Fletcher, Brad Carter, Lukas Haas/ Runtime: 156 minutes
I have always felt that great films have the amazing power to convey to the audience the absolutely unimaginable or unthinkable. Indeed, how often do we find ourselves sitting in the comfort of a darkened theater or our own living room and watch a protagonist suffer through absolute physical and emotional pain that most of us can’t even begin to comprehend? Sadly, while we are treated to that as an audience, it also seems that far too often, these endurance tests feel manipulative or, even worse, false to the point that we as an audience are smart enough to “see the strings” being pulled, and all the while the actor and set never fades away into the character and condition that it’s supposed to become.
Thankfully that is what’s completely and utterly remarkable about Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s new movie “The Revenant”. I say that because here at long last is a cinematic piece of art that you don’t just watch. Rather this is a film which immerses you in its fully-realized world and you experience it. A feat which, while may result in you leaving it somewhat exhausted, will also find yourself not just impressed with the overall quality of the filmmaking but also a little more grateful for the comforts of what and who you have in your life as well.
Now Iñárritu and his co-writer Mr. Mark L. Smith set the tone for this cinematic adventure fairly early by staging an absolutely breathtaking and frightening assault on a group of fur trappers by Native Americans, who are portrayed not just as “enemies”, but as a violent force of nature. Indeed while a few dozen men are preparing to pack up and move on to their next stop in the great American wilderness, a scene that literally could’ve come out of “Apocalypse Now” unfolds as we see and witness arrows and bullets pierce air and flesh. Naturally it isn’t long before the few surviving men flee to their nearby boat, and we meet among them a frontiersman of significant skill and talent named Hugh Glass and his half-Indian son Hawk. Soon however, expedition leader Andrew Henry, due to the low amount of bodies still remaining and with those still alive being hunted, orders that their crew return to its base, a fort in the middle of this snowy wilderness, but we soon witness tragedy rear its ugly head. This is because in the midst of all this, Glass finds himself brutally attacked and nearly mauled to death by a mother bear in a sequence which is hands-down one of the most stunning and brutal things I’ve seen on film in a long time. Yet despite all odds Glass survives the attack, but barely and it really seems highly unlikely that he’ll make it back to the base alive. Thus it is that with increasingly dangerous conditions, and a tribe of killers on their heels, the group agree to split up with most of the men going back while Fitzgerald, Hawk, and a young man named Jim Bridger get a sizable fee to stay with Glass until he dies, giving him as much comfort as possible in his final days, and not to mention the burial he deserves. Of course, Fitzgerald quickly tires of having to watch a man he doesn’t care about die and so he commits an act I shall not spoil here and then buries an immobile Glass alive. Yet as Bridger and Fitzgerald head back, Glass essentially rises from the dead. Thus we see that despite a multitude of vicious wounds, no food, and miles to go, Glass must pull himself through should he wish to find the men who wronged him and ensure that personal justice can be carried out to the letter.
Now the bulk of “The Revenant” consists of this torturous journey, as we witness Glass slowly but surely not only regain strength, but also get closer to achieving his desired goal of retribution through nothing more than sheer force of will. Kudos then must be given to Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. That is because he does a fantastic job of shooting “The Revenant” in that not only does he convey the harrowing conditions, but also the artistry of his vision. Indeed while watching it, one seems to get the feeling that the sky seems to go on forever and the horizon is never-ending. At the same time though, Lubezki even brilliantly works in a color palette provided by nature. Yet there are also time where he seems to enhance it a little bit as the snow seems whiter, and the sky bluer. That and many of his shots, especially in times of great danger like the opening attack and the bear scene, are wonderfully unbroken. This then allows the filmmakers to do a fantastic yet harrowing job of placing us right in the middle of the action, but there are other times where Lubezki’s choices recall his work on “The Tree of Life,” especially in scenes in the second half when Glass’s journey gets a little bit more mystical and surreal. It’s also in these moments where the film falters just a little bit. This is because to some it may appear that Iñárritu doesn’t quite have a handle on some of those second-half scenes and the 156-minute running time may begin to feel self-indulgent as the film loses a little bit of focus. Yet when it centers on the conditions and the tale of a man unwilling to die, it’s absolutely mesmerizing. Honestly I would not be surprised if there’s a tighter version, especially in the mid-section, of this film out there somewhere that would be even more effective than this one and that’s saying something.
Now so much has been made of this film being DiCaprio’s “Overdue Oscar” win that honestly I feel like his actual work to be found here in this film will be undervalued, but make no mistake: this is not just some victory lap performance. I say that because in The Revenant Leo is still just as committed in every single terrifying moment as his other films, and even in some ways manages to push himself further than he ever has before as an actor. Indeed even just the physical demands needed to play this protagonist would have been enough to break a lot of lesser actors, yet DiCaprio manages to successfully not only nail all of that, but also capture Glass’s anger and internal fortitude with an absolutely captivation that goes a long way towards showcasing for us that although his body may be broken, he is mentally and soulfully unwilling to give up. As good as DiCaprio is at tapping directly in to Glass however, Tom Hardy is that much better as the sinister Fitzgerald. Now I will admit: Hardy has more to play with in his character, from his selfish motivations to the unearned bravado he finds while faced with the fact that Glass is on a mission to kill him. Yet what’s ultimately the most fascinating (and subsequently impressive) thing about Hardy’s performance however, is that although Fitzgerald resembles a type of persona Hardy has played before on screen, he still manages to find completely fresh ways to portray this man, so that we ultimately find ourselves witnessing a different side to one of the most complex and fascinating performers out there in filmmaking today. Indeed it really is safe to say that Hardy and his performance truly are the right balance to DiCaprio and his absolutely rabid, feral-like drive and the two are wonderful together.
All in all “What would you do for revenge?” and “What conditions could or would you overcome in order to get something you desperately want?” A lot of society’s favorite films and stories will often drop questions like these into our lives, and by answering them they allow us to appreciate the world a little more than before we saw or read those stories. I feel it is safe to say then that upon seeing “The Revenant” you will see it has this power too. This is because, like the best classic parables of man vs. nature, not only will The Revenant linger and hang in the back of your mind, but it will stay there for quite some time and never let you go. On a scale of 1–5 I give The Revenant “2015” a solid 4 out of 5.
Here we are again dear reader, and yet again I have discovered in the course of our research on this film that the trailer does spoil a pretty significant plot point. Therefore, also again, I am electing not to put the trailer up so you can enjoy this movie to the fullest should you choose to watch it. Thanks again and I’ll see you guys…..at the movies! Ag