Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews
The Revenant | Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Forrest Goodluck, Will Poulter, Paul Anderson, Lukas Haas, Anthony Starlight, Melaw Nakehk’o | Review
- Category: Judy Thorburn
- Published on 09 January 2016
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Filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu follows up his Oscar winning film of last year, Birdman, with The Revenent, that he directed and cowrote with Mark L. Smith, loosely based on Michael Punke's 2002 book “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge,” which itself was inspired by true events. Versions of the story have appeared on the big screen before. What comes to mind is 1971's "Man in the Wilderness," starring the late, great Richard Harris, from which The Revenant (defined as one who returns from the dead) appears to be a remake.
Set in 1823, the story follows real life legendary explorer Hugh Glass (Leonado DiCaprio) and his fight for survival and revenge in the Montana wilderness after being left for dead. We first meet Glass as he is leading a fur trapping expedition. After his team is attacked by some Native Americans on horseback and are forced to flee down a river, the survivors wind up at a remote location far from their destination, where Glass takes it upon himself to go on a hunt for food. That is when Glass is suddenly attacked by a grizzly bear who is protecting her cubs. This sequence is so intense and brutal and the special effects are so seamless and amazing that you would swear the actor was being savagely mauled by a real, and not computer generated animal.
Left severely injured with life threatening wounds and too difficult for the men to carry Glass through the rocky, arduous terrain, Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) decides that his team must move on, but not before leaving two of his men, young, naïve and inexperienced Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and the shady, greedy, John Fitzgerld (another superb villainous performance by Tom Hardy) to watch over and care for him. Also staying behind is Glass’ half-Pawnee son and loyal companion, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) who refuses to leave his father's side.
Instead of keeping his promise not to abandon Glass, the despicable Fitzgerald decides to kill Hawk, as Glass, unable to speak, helplessly watches. Then, Fitzgerald tries to bury Glass alive before continuing on his journey.
Driven by his unbreakable will to live and his desire to seek revenge, Glass somehow manages to survive and is able regain his strength and ability to walk, although he is not close to being out of the woods (pun not intended). What follows is Glass' excrutiating ordeal as he makes his way through the treacherous, freezing environment where he is faced with a series of challenges that includes encounters with foes, swimming in icy rivers, eating a raw bison liver, being thrown off the edge of a cliff and seeking shelter from the cold by cutting open his dead horse, removing its guts, and burrowing inside its skin, to stay alive.
After being nominated four times, this might very well be the year DiCaprio takes home an Oscar for Best Actor for this sincere, physically demanding performance in which he gives it his all and then some. DiCaprio has minimal dialogue and spends most of film making grunting sounds, but he does a spectacular job of conveying his character's inner as well as outer pain and unyielding determination to make it back to civilization, find Fitgerald and make him pay for his heinous acts.
Shot on location in Alberta, Canada, and Argentina's Tierra del Fuego region, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who also worked on Birdman) insisted on using only natural light. His breathtaking camerawork captures every element of the beautiful, but hostile environment and the sweeping panaramas add to the scope and depth of the drama, allowing Mother Nature to play a major role. The result is a visual masterpiece.
The Revenant is a harrowing, gripping story of survival and revenge that pits man against nature and man against man and works as an endurance test for both the actors and the audience who are put through the wringer. This is an immersive sensory experience thanks to the director and his fantastic creative team that make you feel like you are literally sharing every emotion, physical pain, and hardship Glass is forced to endure.
Although it is uncomfortable to watch for all the in your face violence and human suffering, no way does that detract from this cinematic achievement. The rewards outshine the bleakness, making The Revenent one of the best, well crafted films of the year.