The Revenant: Film Review
Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Director: Alejandro G Innaritu
The savagery of survival is just one of the elements explored in the adaptation of the 2002 novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant brought to the screen by Alejandro G Innaritu, the award-winning director of Birdman.
Already nominated in the Golden Globes for both its lead actor and director, the film’s about Leonardo Di Caprio’s Hugh Glass , an 1820s frontiersman in uncharted America. When the group he’s working with are attacked by Pawnee Indians, they’re forced to flee. And things get even worse when Glass is mauled by a bear and is left for dead by those charged with his care….
While The Revenant is essentially a spiritual piece about rebirth and revenge, Innaritu’s created a film that’s visually rich. Working with his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, Innaritu’s made a great fist of the backgrounds on offer in the wilds as well as ensuring the fight for survival is intensely personally shot. A final shot is surprising and ensures The Revenant is burned into your brain as it leaves.
The story’s not exactly original, given the themes of vengeance and the rape of the land from Native Indians and while it’s adapted from a book, it’s not entirely successful in making the transition.
Narratively, the Indians provide the impetus at the start only to disappear as the story progresses and then re-appear when it suits (a thread about a chief’s abducted daughter seems to dawdle and lose steam as it circles the main thread) before re-appearing on the scene at the end. Equally, the French elements in the hills who seem so instrumental in Glass' group's demise are tossed casually to one side.
But perhaps in many ways, this is the way to structure the at times viscerally raw story of this fur trapper because it's Leo's film through and through.
After the intensity of the savage CGI bear attack (a sequence which only shows a few animated cracks as the bear protects its cubs in the most vicious way possible), Glass is left physically shattered and with a slashed throat and therefore our actor without a mouthpiece.
But Di Caprio manages to seethe and struggle through, with a physical performance that is both commanding and watchable. It's helped by a few surprising moments of breaking the fourth wall - notably in the very last shot - but not in the way we've become accustomed to. Fuelled by revenge and a desire to survive instilled in him by his slaughtered wife, Glass's journey, both spiritual and physical is a compelling one. By depriving him of a background and injecting him with a raw primordial push to live, Inarritu almost makes him mythical like Clint Eastwood's Man with No name (even if Di Caprio's throaty whisper is Dirty Harry like towards the end)
Poulter, Gleeson and Hardy deserve mention too as supporting players in this wilderness tale. Perhaps Hardy as the antagonist of the piece Fitzgerald is the one who emerges with a bit more of a rounded character as he expands on his own past and his scalping at the hands of the Pawnee Indians is a subtle tale, showing the horrors of colonialism and the anger of the natives. But his nagging self-preservation starts to strike a chord and make a lot of sense as he compels others to leave Glass behind.
While this odyssey could have done with an expeditious trim of some 20 minutes, there's no denying the power of the visual execution of The Revenant. Doused in spiritual edges and executed with visual precision by Inarritu, this tale of man vs nature with lashings of personal vengeance sprinkled liberally throughout becomes a story of resilience and a film of bravado.