It’s a jungle out there.
In the 1820’s, brilliant and tactful frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a group of fur-trappers and fur-hunters who, for the most part, are just trying to make a living. While they’re doing so in some of the harshest, most unforgiving landscapes imaginable, they still don’t give a flyin’ hoot because they’re just trying to make whatever money they can, all the while, still surviving to actually see said money. However, Hugh gets brutally attacked (and not raped) by a bear, which leaves him unable to walk, or fully lead the travelers he’s supposed to be accompanying and helping. Eventually, he becomes too much of a burden that a few of the hunters, including one John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), that they end up leaving him for dead, but they go too far. Now, Hugh does all that he can to extract revenge, but seeing as how this is the deep Northwest and it is in fact the winter, there’s plenty of issues Hugh has with nature. But as if that wasn’t already bad enough, now Hugh has to worry about fellow hunters, traders and, most dangerous of them all, Pawnee Indians, who are hot on revenge for what the white man has done to them.
Much has already been made about the troubled, if ambitious production of the Revenant, as well as the fact that it may, or may not, contain a bear rape scene, but really, there’s so much more going on here. For one, it’s so brutally violent that you’ll wonder just who the hell funded this and felt like it should be given to a huge audience. The Revenant is the kind of film that feels like some foreign-made indie, where people whose names average layman can’t pronounce (except for those pretentious critics), roam around stark, beautiful landscapes, killing one another in ugly, vile ways, but instead, was made for $135 million, features a big-named cast, and is, for the most part, made to be seen by a large audience.
Which is to say that no, the Revenant is not the perfect holiday movie to bring the whole family out to see, but does that matter?
Not really, and that’s why the Revenant, despite being as dark as the depths of hell, is absolutely worth watching.
Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu surprised a whole bunch of people with Birdman last year, mostly due to the fact that he’s always been known for these depressingly bleak tales that usually contain people being sad, looking sad, and generally, hardly ever cracking a smile. That’s not to say that those earlier flicks aren’t fine pieces in their own right, but it was still nice to see that someone who was as pigeonholed as Iñárritu, could actually step out of his shadow and do something different, as well as funny, for once. But now, it seems as if Iñárritu has had his time with time with happiness, enjoyed it while it lasted and has gone back to his old ways, but now, it seems like he’s trying a tad more.
For one, everything about the Revenant is as upsetting and unforgivably bleak as you’d expect it to be, but that’s sort of the point of the story. That the Revenant starts off with a bloody, ridiculously disturbing war-sequence of sorts, already puts us in the mind-frame of knowing that, well, this movie’s not going to be a breeze to sit through, nor is it going to let up; so, the fact that Iñárritu doesn’t hold back on how far or able he is willing to go with portraying this world as brutal as he wants you to imagine, actually works. No longer does Iñárritu feel as if he’s being excessive just for the sake of being excessive – he’s actually got something to do, something to work with, and something to say.
Which is, well, humans are evil creatures.
Granted, this is no Earth-shattering revelation, but in the Revenant, it kind of does. Everyone here, whether they’re developed, given some depth, or given nothing at all, practically never perform a nice act for anybody else; there is one or two characters, but sooner or later, before you begin to think that this is a sweet, earnest tale about people sticking together in rough and tough situations, Iñárritu pulls the rug from underneath and reveals their fates to be as cruel as you didn’t want to accept, but had to at least accept. So to watch this happen for nearly two-and-a-half-hours, yes, can begin to feel like a bit of an unrelenting drag, but the mood and overall pace of the Revenant pulls you right in that it’s hard to care.
So what if Tom Hardy’s character almost never does a nice thing for anyone else? So what if practically every hurdle and set-back Leo’s character faces, he somehow comes out on top of? Or hell, so what if every situation here ends in at least a dozen or so people getting killed? The Revenant isn’t as much of an unpredictable film, as much as it’s obvious from the very start where it’s going to go and possibly end, but the adventure of getting there and seeing just where the story goes and takes you, is really what makes it all the more worth it.
Could I have done without maybe ten to fifteen minutes of this movie? Sure, but at the same time, I still didn’t leave this two-and-a-half hour movie thinking it was a waste of time, or that it didn’t do much for me. It can be, at times, incredibly hard-to-watch, exciting and above all else, suspenseful as all hell. It is, after all, an adventure flick and feels every bit of it – and with Emmanuel Lubezki’s swooping camera, as well as the daring use of almost all natural light, it’s a beautiful, mesmerizing one at that.
Oh, and yeah, Leo’s pretty great in this one, too.
Then again, when is he not?
However, what’s perhaps most interesting about Leo’s work here is that he’s not really utilizing, or better yet, showing-off any of his usual charisma, or dramatic prowess that we usually see him work with; instead, it’s a much more laid-down, subtle and silent performance. Which is great to see because even though he hardly speaks in this movie, there’s still a certain rush in watching him perform small, but much-needed tasks to keep him alive, as well as safe. He may never tell us what he’s thinking, but he doesn’t have to – the look on his face and dilation of the pupils in his eyes are more than enough.
While this may not be his best performance per se, hopefully, it’s the one that gets him the Oscar this year, once and for all.
Another one who does some great work here and, hopefully, gets some Oscar-attention, is Tom Hardy. While the character of John “Fitz” Fitzgerald isn’t all that much of a layered, or deep one, Hardy shows certain shadings of this character that makes him, despite everything else, watchable. We all get that he’s the villain of this story and will most likely commit every wrongful, immoral act imaginable throughout the course of this flick, but it’s pretty damn hard to take your eyes off of him. Hardy is much to be thanked for that and it just goes to show, that even after mediocre flicks like Legend and Child 44, Hardy can still act his ass off, given the right material to run wild with.
Still can’t understand half of what he says, but hey, at least we’re getting somewhere.
Consensus: Unrelenting and unapologetically bleak, the Revenant is a visceral, mostly beautiful, but altogether rewarding movie-experience that’s probably not made for the whole family, but definitely worth getting fully immersed in, without ever taking your mind or eyes elsewhere.
9 / 10