The Revenant (2015)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, 21 Grams, Babel)
Synopsis: Rugged trapper/hunter is left for dead in the north-western American wilderness and has to survive to return to seek revenge for the man who not only abandoned him but also killed his son.
- DiCaprio, who was once just a baby-faced, too-young-looking for manly roles (in my foolish opinion), continues to astonish in each and every new role. Sure, he still looks so youngish but damn can that man emote and act. Playing a true-life trapper/hunter Hugh Glass is one of his most taxing and challenging roles to date and I commend him on that alone. Once Glass is mauled by a grizzly bear (in one of the year’s best scenes) his throat is badly injured and for most of the movie, Glass is mute and DiCaprio has to rely on grunts and looks to convey his emotions to the camera. There’s one scene where he actually eats a raw bison liver (and DiCaprio is a vegetarian) and I’m sure that was a huge challenge in of itself. There’s another scene that I later learned was real that I won’t spoil but holy shit I can’t believe he did that. Add to the fact that Alejandro G. Iñárritu demanded that this film be shot with natural light in actual harsh wintery climates only added to the task of making this film work. Watching this film is really like watching a dramatized Survivorman episode where we witness the lengths and trials of one man badly injured surviving and traveling in cold, harsh winter, unarmed and poorly clothed, with no food and in hostile Native American territory. It’s a marathon to say the least. And you can tell it’s cold because at various times the breathing fogs up the lens!
- The cinematography is outstanding and the locale and winter landscapes are gorgeous. Instead of The Hateful Eight being shot in 70mm when 90% if it is filmed in a cabin, this movie should’ve been filmed that way. It’s a very beautiful western movie. And the fact that it’s all filmed in natural light only adds to the beautiful look of it.
- There’s also great action scenes and camera work that enhances them. One of the first scenes is an ambush of the trapper camp by Natives and it’s one of the best battle scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Arrows zipping by the screen, hitting either throats, limbs or trees trunks and it’s just beautifully brutal. Towards the middle DiCaprio is trying to evade Natives on horseback and the camera seems to be mounted on fast-trotting horse along with Leo and it’s just awesome. And I mentioned the grizzly bear attack is one of the best action scenes and it’s not just because it’s thrilling and scary but also in how great it was presented, mainly shot at a worms-eye view as if we, too, were being attacked laying down by a huge predator.
- The music is also worth mentioning. I used to be down on recent film scores and haven’t cared for any in a long time but lately I’ve been hearing quite the resurgence of gorgeous film scores and this one by Ryuichi Nakamoto (The Last Emperor, Babel) is one to add to the pleasure of the viewing experience. This is not an easy picture to sit through but between the top-notch cinematography and music, it certainly helps.
What doesn’t work:
- There’s not too much to nitpick in this gloriously made flick. I’ve mentioned that it’s brutal and it’s quite the edge-of-your-seat thrill ride but truth be told it is rather long (156 minutes) and not a lot of talking when it’s one man walking in the wilderness, so most casual viewers may not enjoy themselves. I would also like to point out that there’s about 2 females in the whole movie and they are either raped or killed so this is indeed a “man’s flick” if you get my meaning. I definitely enjoyed and appreciated it more than my wife did but that’s not to say she hated it—quite the contrary but she just didn’t like it as much as I did.
- It’s based on the true-life survival story of Hugh Glass and they of course took many liberties so I don’t know what actually happened or not but the whole Tom Hardy character’s arc is a bit of a stretch. First he expresses his concern and animosity towards Glass and especially his Native American son after they are ambushed by the Natives and when Glass is badly injured and is too much of a burden for the camp to lug on a stretcher, Hardy claims it would be better to kill Glass than to continue this way. The leader of this camp, played decently by Domhnall Gleeson, doesn’t have the heart to mercy kill Glass so he offers to pay 2 men to stay behind with Glass, wait until he dies and then give him a proper burial. This is fine but of course Hardy is one of the men to volunteer to stay with a very greenhorn young trapper and Glass’ son. Why would you trust Hardy to accomplish this without causing trouble? Kinda dumb. But like I said, this may have actually happened historically so whatever.
Overall: I don’t know what it is about Mexican directors but bless them for making such wonderful films. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, along with Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro are the grandfathers of this new wave of Mexican cinema and I applaud their works. Even if they lack in storytelling, like some of del Toro’s later work, they make up for stylistically and technically. The Revenant is a vicious and ruthless telling of survival and revenge and it’s a beautiful film to watch. I highly recommend it for most viewers, male viewers who love westerns especially and whomever thinks that living in the suburbs during a snowstorm is hard to do. Believe me, it takes quite the extraordinary breed of human to do what Hugh Glass did in the winter of 1823.
Score: 9 Near Bear Rapes (out of 10)