OP-ROB RATING: ALL-STAR
"The Revenant" is a film directed Alejandro González Iñárritu about the legendary mountain man Hugh Glass, portrayed by Leonard DiCaprio. In the opening scenes Glass and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) escape an Indian attack with a few members of their hunting party. As arrows fly from every direction, the men load as many animal pelts as possible onto a river boat and push off down the water. As the “scout” for the group, Glass suggests they ditch the boat and move up on land. The captain of the outfit, Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) supports the decision despite backlash from a brutish hunter named John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). During the trek, Glass scouts ahead of the others and is surprised by a mama grizzly bear that mauls him beyond recognition. Somehow he survives and is left in the care of his son, Fitzgerald, and a teenager named Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) while the rest of the hunters move on to safety. Fitzgerald quickly gets antsy, and tries to suffocate Glass who seemingly agrees to the idea. However, Hawk interrupts the execution and confronts Fitzgerald who promptly stabs the young man to death while Glass, whose throat has been slashed by the bear, lies on a stretcher completely helpless. Ultimately, Fitzgerald hides Hawk’s corpse and dupes the kind-hearted Bridger into leaving Glass behind by falsely telling him of an impending Indian ambush. The rest of the movie is devoted to Glass and his journey back from being left for dead.
Iñárritu’s style of filmmaking is simply captivating. His signature whip-pan movements and long takes immerse the viewer into the wild. In dynamic scenes such as the one where the hunters are attacked by Indians and shortly after when the bear horrifically mangles Glass, Iñárritu manages to create a sense of omniscience and simultaneously, total clarity. With “The Revenant” Iñárritu has made a film that looks painfully real; the wind and ice seem to bleed through the screen. It is Iñárritu’s first film since "Birdman", which won him Academy Awards for best picture and best director. In many ways, "The Revenant" seems to be the antithesis of "Birdman". This film isn't confined to a city and a dialogue heavy plot; instead the story occurs in a place that seems a million miles from civilization. Every shot reveals nature in its most raw form. From the streams to the trees to the vast mountainous landscapes, "The Revenant" is truly mesmerizing and beautiful.
Despite superb filming, intuitive directing, and powerful acting, “The Revenant” falls short because there simply isn’t much to think about upon the film’s conclusion. While Glass’ journey is intriguing, his motivation to survive culminates in a bleary final scene in which he finds that revenge is in God’s hands and not his own. “The Revenant” is much more of a visual experience than a thought-provoking film. It’s hard to glean any meaning from watching a groaning, bloody pulp of a man crawl his way through the snow for two and half hours. If anything, “The Revenant” succeeds most in presenting the American West as a harsh environment inhabited by even harsher people.
There are a few flashbacks that provide some context for Glass’ identity, but nothing concrete. In truth, very little is revealed about any of the characters. The main villain is John Fitzgerald. Tom Hardy probably didn’t have to spend too much time getting into character because Fitzgerald is equally rambling and incoherent as was Max Rockatansky, who Hardy portrayed this past summer in “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Unlike Max, however, Fitzgerald is singularly selfish and unlikeable. He spends the majority of the film stomping around and grunting racist comments about Indians. Poulter shows more depth as Jim Bridger, who is truly conflicted over leaving Glass out in the wilderness to die, but never gets enough screen time to fully develop. DiCaprio turns in an incredible performance as Glass, but does far more suffering than speaking.
There is a scene early on in the film where Glass excruciatingly drags himself along the ground gripping handfuls of dirt and snow that scrape against his flayed fingers. After consoling the frozen corpse of his son, Glass manages to crawl into a clearing onto the edge of a cliff revealing a vast and gorgeous valley below. This scene captures the essence of “The Revenant”.In a place dominated by violence and gore there is also tremendous beauty. The film is hard to watch, but there are often moments where you just have to sit back and appreciate the way the camera moves and the striking imagery it reveals. With “The Revenant”, Iñárritu proves his mastery of filmmaking while DiCaprio proves his depth and breadth as an actor. While a lack of narrative and meaning hold “The Revenant” back from greatness, the film overcomes it’s plot deficiencies through outstanding imagery and a masterful display of directing and acting.