Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge, Duane Howard, Melaw Nakehk’o, Fabrice Adde, Arthur RedCloud | Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mark L. Smith | Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
The Revenant a simple story of revenge, but the arduous journey from aggrieved to exacting that revenge is anything but simple. This is Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film and is a huge departure from last years eccentric, superhero movie Birdman. We join the history of how the USA was colonised at the point where white settlers from Europe have disrupted and destroyed all prior notions of civilisation to such a degree that Native Americans are reduced to the same killer tactics to survive and thrive as their recent arrivals. These are hard, frontiersmen times. Snow is on the mountainous, untamed ground and peace and tranquility is nothing but a fantasy.
Based in part on Michael Punke’s novel of the same name, The Revenant’s revenge tale flows out of the fractured relationship between Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). A truly spectacular bear mauling leaves Glass close to death and a severe hindrance to the group of men trying to make it through the mountains before they are tracked and killed. Their leader, and paymaster, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) decides a couple of men should stay with Glass on the proviso they will return with more men to bring him home safely. Fitzgerald and Bridger (Will Poulter) along with Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), Glass’s son, volunteer for the thankless task. Unable to move and barely able to talk, Glass witnesses Fitzgerald kill Hawk in cold blood. Together with Bridger he flees leaving Glass to die. So begins the miraculous physical rehabilitation and death-defying quest to avenge his son’s death.
The well-publicised, dogmatic use of only natural light is stunning and no doubt cemented a close relationship between filmmaking as a process battling the elements and actors want to convey the true struggle of being exposed to them. Iñárritu’s signature 360 degree shots during battle sequences put the viewer right in the middle of the violent confusion. Cinematographer Emmanual Lubezki is perhaps the real star of The Revenant show.
DiCaprio’s performance squeezes every ounce of anguish and pain out of the situation. Made possible by Mark L Smith and Iñárritu’s adapted screenplay that puts one extreme obstacle after another extreme obstacle in his way. If he’s not flying down rapids in freezing water, he’s using an animal’s body to shield himself from the impossible weather conditions. At times it’s like Bear Grylls on steroids. Consequently, it’s macho movie. Men in The Revenant are tough and determined, but also they are base, desperate, deceitful, murderous and stubborn. It’s certainly no advert for how testosterone ruthlessly carved out the foundations of one of the most powerful countries in the world today. Characterisation is a little shallow, but it feels in keeping with the wants and needs of the people in the story. Gleeson’s Captain Andrew Henry is perhaps the one person who possesses hope and honour, but then again he is the rich man whose wealth has bought him authority and respect. He stands to lose more than just his life should chaos be allowed to reign.
Simply put survival is a one-way street. You either make it or don’t. It’s not a complicated, matter of the heart to be explored through dialogue. In the context of this film, it’s a visceral experience to endure through action and that’s where The Revenant excels. The film is weakest when it reaches the inevitable man o man finale. Only because Iñárritu has thrown so much at Glass by this point that hand to hand combat seems so normal.
Minor gripe aside, The Revenant is the most exhausting movie you’re likely to see. To make an audience feel Glass’s extreme experiences from the comfort of a cinema seat is a magical achievement. You’ll be glad more than ever for that roof over your head the next time it rains or snows.
The Revenant is in UK cinemas now.