Dec 29, 2015

"The Revenant" - 2015 - movie review

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass an early 19th century guide/frontiersman who went West and went native. He got involved with a Pawnee woman and lives among her people. Because he knows the country so well he's in demand as a guide for bands of trappers on their months-long expeditions. The film opens with Glass and one of these groups under attack by Arikara Indians. Half the group is killed with the rest barely making it to their boat before heading off down river. Afraid the group is too exposed on the boat Glass tells them to disembark and head cross country on foot instead. During some downtime on this journey Glass is off trying to kill something for dinner when he stumbles upon bear cubs. Where there are bear cubs, momma bear is never far off and never in an accommodating mood. Glass pays the price for his intrusion.

After being mauled by momma-bear Glass is basically a tangled mass of exposed flesh, broken bones and blood. After dragging him around for several days the troop decide to leave him in the hands of a malcontent named Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) with orders to watch over him and if he should die, to give him a proper burial. Hardy wants nothing more than to put a bullet in Glass' head and be off but he dutifully agrees to watch over him. Later, when he's alone with Glass, he tries to kill him but Glass' son intervenes. Fitzgerald kills the boy as Glass watches helplessly and then he leaves Glass to die and heads off to find the others.

Glass rallies and starts on a comeback that would make Beck Weathers proud. The fact that he doesn't die of shock or exposure or blood loss or infection in pretty short order following the CG bear attack leaves one to wonder about the writer's notion of 'realism' however. Not only that, but after only a couple of days his half-eaten legs are suddenly able to support him with only a slight limp. Excuse me? For a moment I thought I'd stumbled into a Bond film. He then takes about an hour long float down an icy stream and somehow avoids hypothermia. Then, to top it off, this same man with the recently mangled legs (oh yes, and exposed rib cage where the bear bit through his flesh) plunges some 100 or more feet over a cliff on a horse and doesn't even tweak one of those mangled legs (or anything else). The horse of course, dies. Because after all we're going for brutal realism here.

Basically my issues with the film center on two points: A) The story adheres to realism where it suits it and leaves realism begging at the door when it needs the hero to live another day. And B) DiCaprio is in over his head with this character and this movie. In essence he gives the same performance he's given in every film he's made in the past decade or so. "Isn't Leo intense?" Sure. But so is a root canal and I'm in no hurry to go through one of those again. I suppose you can't lay it all at DiCaprio's feet. Part of the problem is how the character is written. There's very little real about him. He's a cartoon character; the only throwback, invincible, hero-style character in the film. And that has to be laid at the feet of the writers. Still, DiCaprio has enough clout that he could have insisted on changes had he wanted them.

But enough about DiCaprio because there is an Oscar worthy performance in The Revenant and it's author is one Tom Hardy.

Hardy gives a gutsy, nuanced performance of a man torn apart by freedom; unhinged by the endless indifference of nature. His Fitzgerald has nothing but contempt for the landscape, the climate and the people he encounters. Nature, the ultimate serial killer, has robbed him of his faith and purpose and he occupies a space where only the paycheck matters. You can feel the vacuum at his center, you see him silently putting his actions through old moral filters that no longer work. Witnessing Hardy's performance is like when you listen to music you've never heard before but you still know which note is coming next because the composition has an ironclad internal logic you aren't consciously aware of.

As for the rest of the film: The cinematography borders on amazing and the editing is methodical and restrained. There are likely more cuts in two minutes or so of "The Bourne Ultimatum" than there are in this entire film, and that's how it should be given the subject matter. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu obviously trusts the instincts of his actors and, in most cases, his trust is warranted. The supporting cast is generally excellent and the native people are portrayed in a balanced manner that acknowledges their tragedy without excusing their brutality. If any one group comes off as being "bad" it's the French trappers who seemingly live to carry out atrocities and who, like all evil men, laugh heartily while raping the innocent.

There will be a lot of Oscar talk surrounding The Revenant. Team DiCaprio is already fully deployed attempting to pave the way for his stroll up to the podium. I suppose if Tom Hanks can win an Oscar then you might as well give one to Leo although, in a just world, it would go to Hardy.

Verdict: ★★★★


  1. This writer needs his head checked. My sister and i were riveted by Leonardos acting...He does an amazing job with only twenty words in the whole film. He deserves an Oscar just for floating in the freezing wayer. As for Tom Hardy all we could say was "What did he say" Terrible accent, difficult to understand...hate his character anyway because all he does is complain and try to get ahead of everyone else. The Indian actors were amazing...super job well done...Oscar to Leonardo...he carries this film the whole way..

  2. Just had it checked and you'll be glad to know the writer's head is doing just fine. Thanks for the concern.

  3. Started watching movie with friends. They paused, just after bloody bear attack, I read this review.

    Funny thing: after enduring (action, blood and guts and all) the movie up to that point, I almost felt like "I think I know where this is going."

    The review confirmed it.

    I'm not one for indiscriminate and capricious dispensing with reality and realism.

    Oh, movie just got un-paused.

    I'm going to go floss my teeth and listen to ESPN on iHeart Radio.