by Christopher M. Novas
Directed by — Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Cinematography — Emmanuel Lubekzi
Starring — Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck
Release date — Dec. 25, 2015 (limited), Jan. 8, 2016 (wide)
Running Time — 156 minutes
Genre — Western/Drama
Going to start off this review with a pretty wild statement — THE REVENANT is a perfect film. It is a cinematic masterpiece. Every piece of this film naturally flows together, leaving no extraneous part. It is a visceral journey of survival, and in large part, a tale of revenge. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu does not know the meaning of the word flinch. There is a general brutality to the film that is so real, you can taste the iron of blood on the winter winds.
The tone of the film has a general western feel to it, although the frontier we are presented is a barren one, a frozen tundra designed to make men bleed and suffer. It is prime for horror after horror after horror. There is a mythology to the landscape presented in the film that is very biblical in nature.
The film opens up with an artsy flashback of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), and his Pawnee son, Hawk (Goodluck) years earlier in a Pawnee camp with Hawk’s unnamed mother where it is shown to be attacked and burned to the ground by American soldiers; Glass and Hawk are its only survivors. He tells his young son as long as there is breath in his lungs, to keep fighting and that he will be with him. It highlights a closer, truer bond between a father and son than most films typically portray. It returns to the present day, where Glass and Hawk are hunting elk, and an ambush happens at the camp of fur trappers that Glass is hired to protect from the Arikara (a Native American tribe commonly referred to as the Ree). It is a sequence of scenes that starts off a ballet of blood with an arrow to the throat. They are a series of shots you mentally prepare for, with each close up being deadlier than the last. Bodies are burned and dragged, men are scalped, horses are shot at point blank range, men are shot or pierced with arrows from every direction. It’s incredible.
The turn of the film happens later on, with the already iconic scene that shows Glass being mauled by a grizzly bear. Now, I’ve seen dozens of movies where people have been thrown about by monsters, screaming in agony, etc…but there is simply nothing quite like this. It’s all one-shot. The clawing and biting and ripping and tearing of Glass is something you can feel, the bear coming back to attack again and again to protect her cubs as Glass struggles to put it down with his rifle, and then, finally, with his knife. The close ups of the bear are magnificent, showing her feel out Glass’ body, smelling him, and fogging up the lens at one point which is really nice touch. All in all, you are forced to live through every second of the attack, and you come away incredibly satisfied when he miraculously survives.
He is later found by the surviving members of the expedition and nursed back to some semblance of health, although the remaining 10 of the original 45-50 man party must carry Glass through the wintery forest and mountains on their journey back to safety. Captain Andrew Henry (Gleeson) suggests putting Glass out his misery, but instead entices an offer for those willing to stay with Glass until his final moments. Hawk, Jim Bridger (Poulter), and fellow trapper John Fitzgerald (Hardy) all agree to stay. Fitzgerald, who up to that point in the film has a hostile, negative, and somewhat jealous relationship with Glass decides to kill Hawk, and leave Glass buried alive, taking Bridger with him.
The bulk of the film shows Glass a shattered man, broken by nature, broken by the death of his son as he struggles to survive, dragging himself across mile after mile after mile of frozen tundra, trying to stave off the roaming Ree, freezing temperatures, deadly hunger, and his own festering infections. All to take revenge on the man who killed his son. Many directors would jump from point A to E to H, etc., offering the illusion of fluidity, but Iñárritu deliberately slows down the pace of the film, and takes the audience from A to B to C. It’s incredibly satisfying.
The plot of the film is simple in nature, but it is masterfully executed in the hands of Iñárritu. Some would argue against that, but the film has so much value laying under the surface of what appears to be a by the books revenge tale. Fitzgerald is a man that is not interested in saving his life, but more of living his life and pulling himself up by the bootstraps, by any means necessary. The character of Bridger is interesting as he acts as a counterweight to Fitzgerald cynical, negative nature. He represents the weight of sin on a man and his conscious. There is more to say, but I don’t want to spoil the film.
The acting on the whole of his film is absolutely astounding. DiCaprio delivers easily one his best performances, ever. Some would argue that his character doesn’t have any depth due to the lack of dialogue or a clear character arc in the later part of the film, since his character grunts and groans, barely speaks, but his demeanor makes the film’s portrayal of survival much more immediate and real. I would’ve hated if he had monologues scattered about for the sake of appeasing audiences in “character development”. Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald is absolutely fucking brilliant. He surprised me with the depths of which he went to in order to play this largely sociopathic character. Fitzgerald looks out for #1, himself, and that’s where that ends. He’s humorous, deadly, and conniving all at once. You wouldn’t want to travel with this guy. I haven’t been this satisfied by a villanious role in years, Hardy delivered an A+ performance. Will Poulter convincingly holds the consciousness of the film together with his portrayal of Jim Bridger. Dohmnall Gleeson as Captain Andrew Henry supplies clear eyed decency to the film overall, and Forrest Goodluck as Hawk comes strong as a young man trying to make his father proud, living invisibly amidst white men, and delivering an emotional connection with Glass that is felt by the audience.
I was elated to see authentic Native American portrayals at every point in his film, from the matching warpaint and hair on the warriors and their horses, to Glass and Hawk speaking the Arikara language to each other, to a war chief’s dismissal of the white man’s intrusion on Native American soil/life, to Native American healing techniques and remedies. It was satisfying to see a film which does not stoop low and present indigenous people as savages.
The cinematography in the film is absolutely beautiful. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen such a gorgeous movie. It was filmed all in sequence with natural lighting, and honestly, I want more directors to go this route, if possible/plausible. The colors were spectacular, the dawns and dusks in particular. The embers of a nights fire roaring through the cold, cold night. The constant transformation of nature in the film was incredible to watch. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop it there.
Please, watch this film. It is a force that will shake you to your core. THE REVENANT is a feat of strength.2 Comments