Now that the Oscars have been announced, it was good to see The Revenant getting its much deserved fruits of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s labor (everyone’s labor, actually). Nominated for TWELVE Oscars is pretty impressive. My only regret is the Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai) and Bryce Dessner’s score was considered ineligible for a Best Original Score nomination. It is a decision that is being appealed by Inarritu and the studio. Having said that, The Revenant could have a pretentious bore but instead, it is a stirring adventure film about revenge.
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a real life trapper and guide to other trappers in the frontier days. Battling Indians and the elements, Glass and his fellow guides run afoul of a band of Indians and barely escape with their lives and some of the animal pelts. Heading down river, Glass suggests they go back on land, stash the pelts to be retrieved later and high tail it back to Fort Kiowa. Glass gets out in front of the group to scout out the terrain when he is mauled horribly, by a female Grizzly, protecting her cubs. The group decides that Glass is a dead man, only a matter of time and leave him behind with three others, James Bridger (Will Poulter), John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Glass’s son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). When Fitzgerald tires of waiting for Glass to die, a fight ensues leaving one of three dead and Glass buried in a shallow grave without any provisions.
As you have no doubt seen by the trailers, Glass does not die and instead crawls, horribly mutilated to some kind of safety with another Indian who nurses him back to health…kind of. There is only so much anyone can do for someone who is mangled up in the frontier in the 1800’s. Still, Glass manages to survive and make it back to camp, alert Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) to what Fitzgerald has done and heads back out for revenge.
There have been a number of liberties taken with the “true story” of Hugh Glass and this particular part of his life. All of my research indicates that Glass never married, never had any children and actually died at hands of Indians in 1833 at the ripe old age of 52 years old (thereabouts). The life of Hugh Glass was novelized in part by Michael Punke for the book version of The Revenant and writer/director Innaritu along with screenwriter Mark L. Smith have done a terrific job in telling Glass’s story. This is about a man who refuses to literally, lay down and die. To not only survive but to right the wrongs done to him. It is a story about survival in the worst elements and the worst nature has to offer; man versus man and nature. Leonardo DiCaprio does some of his best work, ironically with not many lines of dialogue (half he speaks in English, the other in Indian). He totally envelopes himself in the character and hooks the viewer into his story, not so much by his words but by his actions.
The rest of the cast does well, too, although Tom Hardy speaks with such a thick southern accent I had a hard time understanding what he was saying in some spots. Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson give solid performances, as well and enhance the story effectively. The Revenant’s cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is simply gorgeous. Shot entirely in natural light, the frontier looks as unforgiving as it is beautiful and Lubezki is my pick for an Oscar. It is hard to do and yet, they have pulled it off with amazing results. The editing is spot on, as well especially during the bear mauling sequence; also Oscar worthy for editor Stephen Mirrione.
I was also struck at the attention given to the sound of this film. You hear every rain drop, snow flake, twig snap, leave fall and breeze. The sweeping scope of The Revenant is tremendous and as I said earlier, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) and Bryce Deesner’s score is intoxicating and worthy of an Oscar. Due to some technicality, it was denied a chance to compete, but they are appealing the decision.
The Revenant takes its time and develops slowly but steadily and yet, I was never bored or lost interest. I cared about what I was seeing on screen and enjoyed every minute of this film. Like I said, shooting this film in natural light was a risky venture and it could have looked horrible. But Innaritu is a visionary and a genius. He knows exactly what he is doing and it shows. He has the Oscars to show for it, too from Birdman of last year to The Revenant, this year…hopefully.
The Revenant- ****1/2 out of 5
The Revenant- Rated R for language, violence and gore
The Revenant- Run Time is 157 minutes
The Revenant is playing in theaters. Check your local listings for locations and show times.