Movie review: ‘The Revenant’ a tale of survival and revenge
–There’s been a long history in cinema of stories about survival against all odds. Usually these films find the protagonist injured, isolated and likely to perish. But few have featured as long of odds as “The Revenant.”
The film is based in part on the true story of Hugh Glass, an explorer who survived a bear attack and being left by comrades to make it back to safety. It’s also based on the fictionalized novel that takes some liberties with that true-life story.
In the film version, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu helps bring the story to life in a beautiful and sometimes brutal way thanks to a great performance from his lead actor, Leonardo DiCaprio.
“The Revenant” begins with a fur trading party preparing to take their haul home. Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is the guide for the journey, having brought along his half Pawnee son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). When a Native American tribe attacks the party, they lose many of their number, some of their cargo and their best shot at getting to their fort quickly.
Winter is about to set in, and it’s too dangerous to be out on the river. So Glass advises Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) to lead the expedition inland. He agrees, much to the dismay of one of his men, Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who doesn’t trust Glass and is hostile toward the guide and his son.
The party stashes their haul and begins the long inland march to the fort. Along the way, while scouting, a bear attacks Glass. Though he kills the bear, Glass is badly injured and Captain Henry fears he won’t survive. Still, the men carry Glass until they reach the mountains, where they realize they won’t be able to carry him further.
Hawk agrees to stay with his father, as do Fitzgerald and Bridger (Will Poulter). The men are instructed to provide great care for Glass until he heals or passes away, and to bury him with honor if he doesn’t survive. Fitzgerald, however, has other plans.
Eventually Glass is left for dead, but he survives. Alone in the wilderness, badly injured and without weapons, he begins a perilous journey to the fort in hopes of seeking revenge.
Inarritu is a gifted visual storyteller, and he applies those talents to “The Revenant” beautifully. By all accounts it was a long, difficult and brutal shoot in desolate and frozen lands. That comes through in the story, too, which has some incredible scenes of isolation and desperation. That adds to the emotion and energy of Glass’ journey in the film.
This isn’t an easy or light-hearted story to tell. Since it draws its narrative from the fictional novel by Michael Punke, it takes a darker turn with the story than is true of the historical account. This is a story of survival fueled by a need and desire for revenge, and that gives the narrative a bit of extra bite.
What also helps is the performances. DiCaprio is a gifted actor who throws himself into this difficult and, at times, physically taxing role. He’s been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor, and is front-runner to win because of his fine work as Glass. He carries a bulk of the film, often alone on screen as he conveys Glass’ struggle to survive despite brutal physical injuries and an incredibly taxing journey through wild territory during the midst of winter. It’s unlike any role he’s ever had, and he meets every challenge.
The supporting cast here is also strong. Gleeson and Poulter are good in their roles. But the real performance of note is Hardy, who plays the rough and manipulative Fitzgerald. Hardy earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work, and really shines in his sequences playing off DiCaprio.
This isn’t an easy film to watch. It’s dark at times, graphically violent and stretches out over two and a half hours. But it’s a well made film that features some beautiful shot sequences, a great score and some incredible performances. It is certainly worthy of its Best Picture nomination.
“The Revenant” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity. Enter with caution.
Three stars out of four.