Synopsis: A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820’s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. (From IMDb)
Review: Leonardo DiCaprio has come a long way from playing the fresh faced Jack Dawson in The Titanic. In The Revenant, he goes full on mountain man. There is a scene where he actually eats raw bison liver. That is true dedication to the art. Anyways, I grew up on John Wayne western movies. The good guys hunted down the bad guys and someone usually ended up hanging. This is not a traditional western movie. Instead it is a tale of gritty survival and revenge. Be warned, the film is a hard R and contains graphic scenes of decaying flesh and violence.
The Revenant is based on true events; though some of the character outcomes differ from reality for artistic purposes. Revenant is a derivation of the French verb “revenir,” which means “to return.” Another meaning is “spirit” or “ghost”. This is an apt title as the movie is about a man who returns, even though everyone thought he was dead. Mark Smith and Alejandro Inarritu adapted the screen play from Michael Punke’s 2002 novel about High Glass. The story centers on Hugh Glass, a frontiersmen who was working for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Hugh was mauled by a bear while on a fur trapping expedition in 1823-1824. For the most part, a majority of the details presented in the film are as accurate as possible; with the exception of the ending.
It is winter 1823. Hugh Glass is on a trapping expedition traveling with his teenage son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a descendant of the Pawnee tribe on his mother’s side. Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) of the Rocky Mountain Fury Company leads the expedition. Henry and the majority of the other trappers tend to treat Glass and his son with a polite respectfulness. However, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) makes no secret that he is only working for the money, pays no respect to anyone, dislikes half-breeds, and will do anything to come out on top. The party exists in uneasy harmony until an attack by Arikara warriors causes the trappers to leave their base and flee downriver. Soon afterwards, Glass is mauled by a female bear and barely survives. Captain Henry leaves Glass behind with Fitzgerald, Hawk, and Jim Bridger (Will Pouleter). Fitzgerald kills Hawk and manipulates Bridger into leaving Glass for dead. This sets off a chain of disastrous events for both Fitzgerald and Glass.
Hugh Glass is a man of fortitude and a strong sense of right and wrong. After being left for dead, he does his best to crawl back to civilization. Even conducting a painful neck wound cauterization. Leonardo DiCaprio does an excellent job portraying Glass’ will to live and desperation to make Fitzgerald pay for his crimes. This is quite an acting achievement since DiCaprio has very few lines throughout the film. The bear mauling ripped open Glass’ throat, which makes talking quite difficult. Physically, this represents one of Dicaprio’s most challenging roles. I think it attests to his acting ability, conveying emotion strictly through body language is hard to accomplish. However, one major drawback lies in Glass’ relationship with Hawk. It is quite evident that DiCaprio does not have children.
Hawk is Glass’ half-white/half-Pawnee son. The father-son relationship between DiCaprio and Goodluck never quite develops into a believable emotional dynamic. From the beginning it becomes evident that Hawk exists to die and add another layer of emotional depth to Glass’ tale. Losing a child and seeking revenge is a common melodramatic twist in a majority of Western films. Throughout the film Inarritu weaves in some ghostly flashbacks to convey Glass’ love of Hawk and his Pawnee wife. However, the movie only tells of Glass’ love, it never quite shows the emotion. And the flashbacks felt out of place with the overarching narrative. Some of them were rather oddly placed and pulled the audience out of the film.
Narrative wise, there was one disjointed subplot that ran throughout the film. Elk Dog (Duane Howard) is an Arikara warrior who is trying to track down his kidnapped daughter, Powaqa. She was captured by a band of French Tappers. However, this subplot is hardly connected to the main narrative. These characters barely cross paths with Glass until nearly the end of the film. This could have been another compelling layer to the plot, but it just felt disconnected and unrelated to everything else.
Tom Hardy infuses Fitzgerald with a lot of maliciousness. He comes across as a scheming and undermining scoundrel. I would never want to be stuck on a mountaintop with Fitzgerald. Domhnall Gleeson continues to prove that 2015-2016 is his year. Not only is he playing the terrible General Hux in Star Wars, he also plays the Honorable Captain Henry. Fitzgerald is the villain and Henry provides the moral compass of the film. He is upstanding, honest, and horrified that Fitzgerald left Glass behind. Gleeson is fast proving to be a solid actor and capable of holding his own against acting heavyweights. Will Poulter and Forrest Goodluck round out the cast with solid performances.
Perhaps the best part of the movie is the cinematography. Most of the film was shot in the Canadian Yukon and Argentina. All the shots were done in natural lightning, so the movie looks incredibly real and rugged. Several times DiCaprio’s breathe fogs the camera lens. Every puff of air and infected inch of flesh is captured in raw detail on the screen. Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is a true master of light and shadows. Inarritu proves that his surreal style of filmmaking can work in other narratives besides Birdman. Overall I thought this was an interesting film. Though, as I watching the events unfold on screen, all I could think was that I bet everybody smelled really bad back in the 1820’s.