I felt like I had just been beaten to an emotional pulp after a relentless brutal battle against man and nature, much like the hero of this story who was mauled by a grizzly bear to within an inch of his life. And that’s just the beginning of his problems as he miraculously manages to overcome his injuries despite many attempts by angry native tribes and some of his own companions to kill him off.
The Revenant is an epic wild ride through the fur trade era’s legendary adventures of Hugh Glass, a hunting scout for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1823. The film is based on the novel by Michael Punke of the same name, and his harrowing ordeal in the wilderness of 19th century uncharted Upper Missouri River.
This is a prestige picture from an Oscar-winning director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, with a big name star, Leonardo DiCaprio, and an epic story based loosely on historical legend. But despite all that, The Revenant doesn’t feel like a typical Hollywood film. In fact, this film is far superior to most Hollywood movies.
Director of last year’s Oscar-winning best picture Birdman (2014), Iñarritu’s obsessively demanding methods and brilliant vision have raised the bar for epic scale realism and immersive experience in today’s cinema. If you compare his film with other Hollywood depictions of this era with films like Dances with Wolves (1990) and The Last of the Mohicans (1992), The Revenant far surpasses them in cinematic grandeur and gut wrenching suspense.
Hugh Glass, who had previously been captured by Pawnee Indians and has a son by a Pawnee native woman, is working as a guide for an English company of fur trappers when they are viciously attacked by Arikara tribe warriors who are on the warpath to rescue and retrieve the kidnapped daughter of their chief.
The few survivors of the attack which opens the film with hair-raising realism as the camera continuously moves, caught in the thick of the battle, like one of its participants, eventually escape down river but must abandon their boat and trek on foot across frozen winter landscapes back to protection of their fort.
Filmed in breathtaking locations of rough virgin landscapes around Alberta and Argentina, The Revenant is as stunningly beautiful as its story is brutally harsh. Iñarritu pulls no punches as he graphically depicts the harrowing struggles of men against nature, carrying out their own form of frontier justice.
When Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear protecting its cubs, he is near death with life-threatening wounds and doesn’t have long to live without any medical attention in the harsh conditions. Unable to move but still alive, he is carried by the rest of the surviving trappers as he is the only one who knows the way back through the wilderness.
Eventually, they come to the conclusion that he must be abandoned if the rest of the group is to survive. They leave him and his son and two others to give him a proper burial if and when he dies. With hostile native Indians still on their trail, one of the men, Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who has been elected to tend to the injured Glass, is not eager to fulfill his obligations and soon succumbs to his baser instincts to hasten the inevitable.
But what Fitzgerald doesn’t anticipate is Glass’s resilience and spirit of survival and justice. What follows is one of the most excruciating depictions of inexhaustible drive to fight for life that’s ever been put on screen. It gives new meaning and dimension to the power of the human spirit.
In addition to this captivating story, The Revenant also manages to accurately give us an authentic sense of what life must have been like for people who lived during this time period. Leonardo DiCaprio gives us one of the most engaging performances of his career. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is the year (his fifth Oscar nomination) he finally goes home with the Oscar.
by John Schwab
The Revenant Movie Review