Release Date: Jan. 8, 2016
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writer: Mark L. Smith & Alejandro González Iñárritu (screenplay); Michael Punke (based in part on the novel by)
Stars: Alejandro González Iñárritu
MPAA Rating: R
Sam Elliot’s character the Stranger famously said in The Big Lebowski: “Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.”
That could easily be the tagline of The Revenant, which is the story of a 19th century frontiersman mauled by a bear while leading a group of fur traders back to their base. After Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is savagely attacked by a bear, his team is faced with a difficult decision. He is likely to die and taking him back with them may mean they die too, since he’ll slow them down as they travel across rough terrain inhabited by Native Americans they are at war with.
A compromise is made to leave a handful of men behind to watch over Glass, in hopes he will recover enough to walk back with them (though no one is very optimistic this will actually happen). One of the men who stays behind, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), attempts to suffocate Glass in a misguided mercy killing, only to be interrupted by Glass’ half-Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). In a panic, Fitzgerald kills Hawk and leaves Glass for dead. From there, Glass’ only reason to live is to get revenge. He begins crawling across the snowy terrain to hunt down his son’s killer.
While The Revenant has very little in common with co-writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s last film, the highly-acclaimed Birdman, it is equally as visually-stunning. The Revenant is a beautifully shot film. Every single frame feels expertly conceived, deeply immersing you in the film’s gorgeous, yet deeply disturbing world.
Also, similar to Birdman, Iñárritu sets The Revenant in a world that is incredibly realistic with just a touch of magic. The savage bear attack and the unforgiving terrain give the film a gritty realism. But there are also moments that seem to take place outside of reality, including a metaphorical rebirth that involves Glass stripping naked and sleeping inside, then ultimately reemerging from, a gutted horse.
Much has been made about Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in the film, with many believing this may be the film that finally gets him an elusive Academy Award win. For my money, I think he certainly delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets overlooked. It’s an incredibly restrained performance. Glass is a man of few words who spends most of the film either in excruciating pain or overwhelmed with grief. But DiCaprio plays the character perfectly and adds a lot of nuance to the role. There’s an amazing reaction shot late in the film where his face goes from rage to grief as he realizes nothing will ever bring his son back. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking moment that is pulled off with nothing but facial expressions. I’d give him the award for that moment alone.
Tom Hardy is also great Fitzgerald. The character could easily become a one-dimensional mustache twirler, but Hardy adds a lot of complexity to the character. Fitzgerald has his own warped moral code, believing his actions to all be justified. Even as things spiral out of control and he realized the man he left for dead didn’t die, he still holds strong to the idea that he was completely justified in his actions. It makes their conflict all the more troubling.
I was also really impressed by Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Captain Andrew Henry, the leader of the fur trading expedition. He’s a man who must make a series of tough decisions, starting with leaving Glass behind. Gleeson plays Henry as an honorable man facing a series of no-win situations. Gleeson makes Henry incredibly sympathetic and memorable in limited screen time.
All three of these characters converge in the finale, which culminated in a unflinchingly vicious confrontation. The whole film hinges on this moment, since the entire story revolves around Glass catching up to Fitzgerald. And Iñárritu absolutely delivers. It’s a brutal, memorable battle.
The Revenant feels like an unlikely follow up to Birdman, which centered around a washed up movie star attempting a comeback, but fans of Iñárritu will still recognize the director’s signature visual style and knack for incorporating magic into realistic worlds. So if you dig Iñárritu’s work or if you want to see DiCaprio turn in one of the most subtle, yet sophisticated roles of his life … or if you just want to see the pretty boy mauled by a bear … this is the film for you.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org