While exploring the uncharted Canadian wilderness in the 1800s, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sustains terrible injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his hunting team leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, Glass treks through the wintry terrain to track down John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the former friend who betrayed and abandoned him. (Inspired by a true story)
Review by Louise Keller:
A primal thriller set in the wilderness of the American frontier in the 19th century, Inarritu's film is cinematic, powerful and raw. It's a story about survival, fuelled by determination, courage and revenge as it explores issues of loyalty, betrayal and redemption. While the narrative takes the form of a drama filled with unexpected twists, the film is essentially a visceral experience in which the elements of nature and the internal struggles are as much a part of the action as the narrative. Watching The Revenant is an immersive experience with its breathtaking landscapes, extreme weather conditions, overt brutality and close up view of an unforgiving life in which survival is key.
There are many textures, colours and tempos reflected in the waters that rush between the tall trees in the opening scenes. The perilous reality is quickly established as we get a sense of life as a fur trader, battling the elements and the constant imminent risks and dangers. Leonardo diCaprio's Hugh Glass is different from the other traders, prompted by his commitment to his native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), his murdered Pawnee wife and connection to nature. Nothing prepares us for the shocking bear attack when Glass is mauled to inches of his life. However, John Fitzgerald's (Tom Hardy) disregard for human life when he leaves Glass for certain death in inhumane circumstances is far more shocking than a bear protecting its cubs.
It is the strength of Glass's love for his son above and beyond his own will to survive that motivates him to find the superhuman strength to crawl from his grave. The sight of diCaprio with unkempt hair and facial hair, making his way across the vast landscape, the fur of the bear that nearly kills him wrapped around his shoulders in the extreme conditions, is an indelible sight. Demanding extreme physicality as well as a nuanced internal emotional thrust, diCaprio brings a great intensity to the role. Hardy makes a fine adversary as the morally bankrupt Fitzgerald, while Domhnal Gleeson and Will Poulter, with their distinctive looks and strengths, are strong additions to the cast.
The arduous journey Glass faces for his survival is filled with confronting scenes, none more so than the one in which he disembowels a dead horse in order to creates a den for his hibernation. Birdman cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki uses effective extreme close ups all the while, ensuring we are there for the experience.
Those who rely on non-stop action may become restless. Innarritu uses the 156 minute running time to immerse us in the setting; the beauty of the film is about the experience. We are there as Glass treks through thick crunchy snow, swims in icy rivers, tumbles down treacherous waterfalls, while battling hunger and managing his life threatening injuries. His human foes are equally threatening.
I love the thrilling percussive fanfare in the lead up to the final confrontation between Glass and Fitzgerald. The score then offers what sounds like the orchestra tuning up, in anticipation of the final performance. There is everything to lose for both men and these scenes are violent and savage. Innarritu has made a formidable film with extreme elements and whose visual and emotional essence lingers.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If suffering on screen gets you an Oscar, Leonardo Di Caprio certainly deserves one. He spends almost his entire time on screen as Hugh Glass, in pain: badly mauled by a grizzly bear in Canada's remote frontier, buried alive, painfully crawling towards safety, tumbled down a wintry waterfall, stabbed in the hand ... and all the while mourning the murder of his half caste son. His wife had also been murdered. Anyone who doesn't feel some sympathy for Glass is a psychopath.
To make matters worse, as it were, the filmmaking is of such high standard technically speaking that we do indeed feel Glass' pain.
What was he doing there in the first place? As part of a hunting party collecting pelts for trade, he was a working tradesman, under the command of Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), although the film doesn't make it clear just who this bunch are. Nor can we work it out from the dialogue, most of which is lost in a combination of heavy, often mumbled accents and too much bass in the mix.
There are faint echoes of Gladiator in the story, insofar as the father-son relationship is concerned, and the memory-visions of the murdered wife. That element helps infuse the film (and the score) with considerable melancholy, which distracts us from the fact that The Revenant is really a (very long) revenge story; again, echoes of Gladiator.
The film is superbly made. Spectacular landscape shots and a clarity of images the dialogue doesn't match propel the film as a visual pleasure. I have not the read the book, but I would have to imagine it offers a deeper experience, the visualisation of its mystic elements notwithstanding. For instance, the relationship between Glass and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) which is so crucial to the story, is underwritten, so the magnitude of Fitzgerald's bastardry - the fuel for Glass' revenge - is lost. The internal aspects of the prose have not been put on the screen and it's those aspects that would warrant such a huge undertaking.
The film resolves around a final physical confrontation between two men, which reduces the film's internal emotional dynamics to the level of a simple old fistfight or gunfight in which only the good guy can triumph. After two and a half hours, I would have liked the stuff of the film to have been as deep as the snow.
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REVENANT, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Paul Anderson, Lukas Haas, Javier Botet, Brendan Fletcher, Brad Carter, Kristoffer Joner
PRODUCER: Steve Golin, Alejandro Gonz‡lez I–‡rritu, David Kanter, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon, James W. Skotchdopole
DIRECTOR: Alejandro Gonz‡lez I–‡rritu
SCRIPT: Alejandro Gonz‡lez I–‡rritu, Mark L. Smith (novel by Michael Punke)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Emmanuel Lubezki
EDITOR: Stephen Mirrione
MUSIC: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai, Bryce Desner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jack Fisk
RUNNING TIME: 156 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 7, 2016