The Revenant movie review: When enough is enough
At The Movies
* * * (B)
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson
Fox, Rated R, Adventure, 156 minutes
The Revenant, a two-and-a-half hour film, boasts astounding visuals and a story well worth your $10. The realistic winter setting in the wild forests of the Dakotas caused me to long for my blankey.
Leonardo DiCaprio portrays legendary explorer, Hugh Glass. Taking poetic license for dramatic effect, the film provides Glass with a son he didn’t actually have at that time. It’s 1823, when Glass, 43, signs with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company as scout for an expedition along the upper Missouri River. Glass brings along Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), his 18 year-old, half-Pawnee son — never far from Glass’s paternal eye.
Director Alejandro G. Inarritu lenses the frozen landscapes in haunting profiles that speak to the loneliness one would likely experience under such conditions. Riding unshod horses in the soft snow, the Arikara Indians mount a surprise attack.
Punctuated by gunshots, the assault remains otherwise frightfully quiet. Arrows shower the trappers, spearing heads and torsos. Hatchets find their marks. Glass gets his share of kills before fleeing into the forest with his son, and seven others from his party.
The escapees, weighed down by the pelts guaranteeing their wages, argue over the routes and distances they must travel with neither horses nor adequate provisions. Safety is weeks away.
Hyper aware of his surroundings, Glass appears to consider all eventualities. At other moments, he recalls his beautiful Pawnee wife (Grace Dove), killed by white soldiers when Hawk was a child. In an attempt to humanize Glass, his persistent flood of romanticized memories diminish a struggle already sufficient to earn empathy aplenty.
On several occasions Glass advises his hothead son that an Indian living in the white man’s world must “be invisible.” If the tragic timber of events, thoughts and memories smack of foreshadowing — well, you’ve got the picture.
Within a few days of the trappers’ escape, Glass is hunting when he stumbles upon a grizzly bear sow and her cubs. Glass spots the grizzly in an aggressive stance just 50 feet away, but hasn’t time to raise his rifle before the huge grizzly charges with all due speed.
I was prepared for the rumored graphic attack, but was somewhat relieved to find it less graphic, but just as brutal, as imagined. It’s all so convincing that while he lies prone, the enormous weight placed on his head when the sow stands upon it, brought about my sympathetic headache.
Horribly injured but alive following the mauling, Glass is eventually left behind because Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and his party cannot hope to haul Glass’s litter up a steep mountain they must ascend. Captain Henry promises hefty rewards to those staying behind “to tend to Glass, and provide him with a proper Christian burial when the time comes.”
Hawk stays close to his father, joined by malcontent John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and young greenhorn Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). Treachery among Glass’s keepers ultimately strands him entirely alone.
The longest section of the film chronicles Glass’s efforts to reach safety 200 miles away. DiCaprio handles the journey admirably, although we never quite find our way into Glass’s psyche. I comfortably settled for what could be seen while ticking off a mental list of actors (including Matt Damon and Matthew McConaughey), who might have added depth to the grueling right of passage.
This doesn’t mean that “The Revenant” is unworthy. DiCaprio’s performance is sufficiently captivating, benefiting from both the actor’s grit and the monster hiding inside Tom Hardy’s nefarious Fitzgerald.
During the film’s final act, Glass’s revenge story represents wish fulfillment and a grab for audience empathy. Yet, I wonder whether the actual story might have been more satisfying? Survival against all odds provides a marvelously escapist viewing experience.
Ditto surviving in order to take revenge. But, is the latter superior? It’s certainly a storytelling tradition, but here it’s the unforgiving winter in a pitiless wilderness, that most unnerves.