After winning the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for Birdman last year, Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is back with The Revenant, a film based on a novel written about real people. Is The Revenant another winner, or will you feel like you just got mauled by a bear?
Based in part on the novel of the same name by Author Michael Punke, The Revenant tells a story of survival featuring frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) in 1823. While on a fur trapping expedition led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), Glass and his companions are beset by Native Americans and forced to flee for their lives. Glass butts heads with another trapper, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), on the course of action as they escape. Fitzgerald also has a racist streak in him as he bullies Glass’ half-Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). When Henry follows Glass’ advice, he draws the ire of Fitzgerald. Then Glass, while scouting ahead, is attacked and mauled by a grizzly bear. Fitzgerald’s advice is to finish Glass off and put him out of his misery, but Henry opts to carry Glass along with them on a litter. However, when the terrain becomes impossible to traverse with the litter, Henry offers a bonus to any men who will stay behind with Glass and make sure that he is buried properly when he inevitably succumbs to his injuries. Hawk obviously agrees to stay behind as does the young Bridger (Will Poulter). The surprise comes when Fitzgerald also elects to stay behind. I don’t want to spoil anything else, but let’s just say that eventually, Glass is left for dead and the rest of the film charts his fight to survive as he struggles against his own weakened body, the elements, and the Native Americans the group encountered in the first place.
The Revenant is gripping filmmaking at its finest. The cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki is absolutely gorgeous as he expertly captures the beautiful scenery. Director Iñárritu insisted on shooting with only natural light and it adds so much to the look of the film. Artificial light truly would not have jelled right with the setting of the film. The story, adapted by Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, is absolutely riveting as the audience follows Glass’ trials and tribulations. My only two complaints with the film involve the running time and a short, but pivotal plot point. The film definitely feels its length at times. Glass has a lot of visions as he wanders delirious through the wilderness. There are also some repetitive, lingering shots that could have been cut to tighten things up. I think the film could have lost about 10-20 minutes and been just as effective. The plot point, which I won’t spoil, involved a character that Glass encounters, but then the shots and scenes that follow do not make that character’s fate completely clear, which led to a bit of confusion on my part. I may have missed something, but it could have been clearer. However, those two minor quibbles do not diminish the fact that this is a great film.
The cast completely delivers here. DiCaprio does a fantastic job capturing the struggle his character is going through both physically and mentally. At the same time, though, it’s a very subdued performance. It’s not especially showy, but demonstrates an actor at the top of his game. Hardy has the much meatier role as the antagonist Fitzgerald. However, while he occupies that narrative role, every one of Fitzgerald’s actions is logical and understandable. He’s still not a great guy, but considering the time and environment in which they lived, you can buy his actions. He is up there now with the best actors of his generation. I fully expect both DiCaprio and Hardy to nab Oscar nominations this year. Gleeson and Poulter also do fine work here. Gleeson is especially good as the Captain losing control of his expedition. Kudos also have to go out to Goodluck in his first feature role. He brings a lot of passion to his performance.
Iñárritu has done it again with The Revenant. Though it feels its length at times, it is still one of the year’s best films. Fantastic performances and stunning cinematography anchor this gripping tale of survival. See it.