Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Writers: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
The Revenant is two stories blended together into one. On one level it is a story of revenge as the main character searches for the man who killed his son and left him for dead. As he undergoes an agonising journey and faces the perils of the harsh winter, the forbidding forest and the ruthless Native Americans on his trail, it is his thirst for vengeance that drives him forward. On another level The Revenant is a story about the power of nature and of man’s place in the universe. After suffering and barely surviving the fury of nature this man has to battle against such foes as the cold, starvation, exposure and the land itself in order to survive. Hunting him in pursuit of their own vengeance are a people who are in touch with nature and are just as cruel and merciless. What Hugh Glass understands however is that nature can also be an ally as well as a foe and it is that recognition, as well as his sheer will and determination, that allows him to survive.
Following a brutal ambush that claims the majority of their party, a group of trappers deep in the wilderness are forced to embark on a hazardous expedition to get home. During this expedition the hunter Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is viciously attacked by a grizzly bear and is all but mauled to death. With the Native Americans hot on their trail the group cannot afford to have any hindrances slowing them down. Captain Henry Andrews (Domhnall Gleeson) leads the expedition onwards and leaves Glass in the care of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass’ half-native son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). Later when Hawk catches Fitzgerald attempting to put Glass down, a fight breaks out that ends with Fitzgerald killing the boy in front of his father. After hiding the body he persuades Bridger that they cannot stay any longer and leaves Glass to die. Broken and on the verge of death, Glass embarks on a treacherous journey to find their settlement and bring Fitzgerald to justice.
This film is a technical marvel. Right from the opening scene the film presents us with a stellar battle sequence as the traders are ambushed by the Native Americans. With a long-take that seamlessly moves from extreme close-ups to wide surveys of the battlefield the film allows us to take in the chaos and brutality of this attack at an intensely personal level. Watching these men getting killed off by arrows that appeared out of nowhere reminded me of Aguirre, the Wrath of God. As Glass undergoes his quest for survival the film follows him with every excruciating step and stays with him as he crawls along the hard ground, climbs the grim ridges and ventures into the fierce rapids. The intimacy of the camerawork allows you to feel every painful second of Glass’ journey. The cinematography also allows for an appreciation of the landscape, driving home the overwhelming power of nature in all her beauty, cruelty and majesty.
As Glass DiCaprio delivers one of the most intense performances of the year with a fervent commitment that is unquestionable. The rage and grit he exhibits in his harrowing quest for vengeance is stunning and his dedication to the role is venerable. The physical, emotional and spiritual toll that this experience takes on him makes itself felt with every strain, every grimace and every shout of agony. This is probably the most demanding role DiCaprio has ever taken in his career and he proves himself equal to it. Also noteworthy is Hardy as the cold, callous Fitzgerald. This villain does not strike me as one whose motives are necessarily evil. Instead I think that he is a man who has spent too much time in the wild and has been adversely affected by his experiences. He has learnt that to survive means to be pitiless and has no qualms about leaving behind those who are too weak. Hardy depicts a strongly impersonal and heartless demeanour as this character.
If I have any issues with this film, it is that it sometimes tries to depict its narrative in a Terrence-Malick-esque way, evoking these dreamlike sequences that feel kind of empty, or at least lacking, in terms of weight and meaning. This isn’t to say that the film as a whole is lacking in substance to match its remarkable style though, I just thought that those sequences were trying to convey a kind of poetry that I didn’t think was there. However, in terms of drawing the viewer into the journey and providing an intense viewing experience, The Revenant is a marked success. Through innovative direction and a fully committed, physically-demanding leading performance this film draws the viewer into an extreme and arduous tale of survival in all of its severity. The film’s command of tone and use of environment allows for a truly captivating spectacle that commands your attention from beginning to end.