Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Writers: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu & Mark L. Smith
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Duane Howard, Fabrice Adde, and Lukas Haas
Synopsis: A frontiersman named Hugh Glass on a fur trade expedition in the 1820s is on a quest for survival after being brutally mauled by a bear.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Based in part on the novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant is also based on the true story of Hugh Glass, who goes for revenge against the people that left him for dead. So take that story and add the team of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, with great actors in Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, and you get yourself an amazing visual film with performances that will stick with you.
The Revenant is, at its barebones, a “man vs. nature” and survivalist film. The film follows fur trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who helps Captain Andrew Henry (Gleeson) and his men get fur for the winter and so they can sell. The group includes other traders and soldiers, but the core people we follow are Glass’ half-Native American son Hawk (Goodluck), a young Jim Bridger (Poulter) – who would become one of the Old West’s most legendary mountain men, but this isn’t his story – and a self-interested and temperamental John Fitzgerald (Hardy).
The opening of the film sees the group getting attacked by a Native American tribe of Arikara lead by their chief (Howard), who have their own storyline of looking for the chief’s daughter, but it doesn’t add a ton of the overall story, so I’ll avoid talking about that. Anyway, our main group lead deep into the forest to avoid the Arikara, but soon after Glass is attacked and horribly mauled by a grizzly bear. Captain Henry insists that they take Glass, who is clinging to life as it is, back to their fort. Fitzgerald, not wanting to risk his life for a man who’s already dying, decides to “stay behind” with Hawk and Bridger to give Glass a proper burial once he finally dies. Of course, Fitzgerald doesn’t honor that and kills Hawk and leaves Glass for dead in a pit. Glass eventually gets out and seeks his revenge against Fitzgerald.
The Revenant is a tough movie to sit through. Not because it’s bad, but because of what we see Hugh Glass who through, physically and emotionally, and what he has to do in order to survive. The bear mauling scene alone is standout sequence in the whole film, but seeing Glass go through the vast wilderness in the dead of the winter to get the man that killed his son and left him for dead is just gut-wrenching to watch. However, what makes the film work even more is knowing that everything was done particular. It truly is a testament to the cast and crew to put the film together. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Inarritu and Lubezki decided to film the movie on location, during the winter in Calgary and Argentina (yes, Argentina!), and only using natural light to shoot the film. The way that Lubezki shoots the film is visually amazing to look at in every way. From the long and tracking shots – which he’s famous for – of rivers, the sky, and trees that tells us the other part of the story and connecting theme, to the close-ups of DiCaprio’s Glass gritting his teeth through the pain and his breath in the cold weather. Lubezki is truly one of the best cinematographers in Hollywood today.
But besides the amazing cinematography, the film is nothing without the performances. Of course the film belongs to Leonardo DiCaprio, in the film that could hopefully, and finally, win him an Oscar. Hell, DiCaprio doesn’t really have a ton of lines in this, as his performance is strictly him trying to survive in any way possible, a few grunts and simply standing still. As for Tom Hardy, like DiCaprio, is reliable in everything he does, but here his performance is showier than Glass, and any time he’s on screen he chews up the scenery. One scene in particular has Hardy’s Fitzgerald telling a story about his father to Bridger. The speech – again – fits into the overall theme and who the character really is.
The rest of the supporting cast has their moments, but the film belongs to DiCaprio and arguably Hardy as well. Will Poulter’s Bridger and Forrest Goodluck’s Hawk bring in the young vulnerability to the frontier and their trip, while Domhnall Gleeson (who’s everywhere now, and good for him) brings the character to life, who could have been nothing more than a one-note or throwaway character. Arthur Redcloud also has a small role as a Native American character that helps Glass is somewhat memorable.
The Revenant isn’t a film for everybody. Some, including myself at times, will find the middle of the film to drag on and feel a bit repetitive. But the argument can be made that it is Inarritu trying to make us feel like we are there suffering the long road back with Glass. Following that, some of the survivalist moments of the film will probably take some out of the film.
All in all, The Revenant, like all Alejandro G. Inarritu films has more going on that the simple story that we see. Yes, the film is about a man seeking revenge, but it’s the way that Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shot the film that makes it more than that and makes it a beautiful, yet gritty and dangerous story and film. The film could be one of those that you could watch again to catch some of the nuances in the cinematography or even the performances, but make no mistake The Revenant is truly one of the those films that will stick with you.
4.5 out of 5