I know this will come as a surprise to many, but I wasn’t as cinematically aroused as fellow critics when I screened Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “The Revenant.” As cinematography goes, Inarritu’s latest film is a masterpiece, but relying on Leonardo DiCaprio’s gutsy performance and 2 ½ hours of vast panoramic shots left me feeling as empty as the film’s dialogue or the wilderness Leo’s character fought to preserve his life and, ultimately, his honor.
DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a scout for a fur trapping expedition, who’s acquainted with the wilderness and the indigenous people who occupy it. Glass has a half son named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) who Glass is determined to protect against the savages that are the American fur trappers. However, from the almost the opening credits it becomes apparent that the early 1800s wilderness is far from the conquered area that would later follow as Manifest Destiny took hold and the westward expansion toward the end of the century almost completely annihilated the First Americans.
Glass and a few fur trappers barely manage to escape with their scalps as Arikara natives massacre the trappers in their camp. Simply put, the scene is gory, and it only gets better, or worse, from there. Not more than 20 minutes later and Glass encounters bear cubs while he scouts ahead of his party in search of an isolated fort. Well with cubs there’s momma bear, and, for what seemed like an eternity, Glass quickly becomes momma bear’s chew toy. And just when you think it’s over, the bear comes around for more, but this time glass is able to inflict a mortal wound.
Badly mauled, the remaining trappers try in vain to carry Glass’s almost lifeless body, but the rough terrain and winter weather makes it impossible. Unable to put Glass out of his misery despite the urging of the grizzled veteran trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the group’s leader Capt. Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) offers a reward to any men who stay behind to take care of Glass and give him a proper burial when it’s time. Of course Hawk agrees as does another younger trapper, but things get hairy when Fitzgerald offers a helping hand.
What makes this film interesting is the knowledge that the event actually happened. Now, whether it played out like Inarritu envisioned is unlikely, but seeing the primal struggle for life on the big screen is at times surreal. The film is beautiful. Even the perhaps over-the-top gore has an artsy quality to it. But, though I tried, I couldn’t help feel as though my struggle to sit through the end of the film was as trying as Glass’s effort to stay alive despite being mauled in the middle of nowhere.
At some point Leo will win the Oscar, maybe for this one, maybe not. Hardy, as some already know, is my man crush, and he’s pretty much always awesome. The cinematography is on point, but in the end it was too much effort to sit through. However, I’ll end with this; it was a hell of a lot better than “Birdman.”
3 stars out of 5
“The Revenant” is rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.