“The Revenant” probably should have been called “Live Through This.”
Reportedly one of the toughest film shoots, director Alejandro González Iñárritu puts actor Leonardo DiCaprio through every circle of hell to tell a simple, yet unrelentingly bleak story of revenge.
At its core, the film is about the lengths a man will go to make right what is wrong. Deeper, the film is a study in the will and spirit of a man who wants what he no longer can have — the love of a family.
Being that this is an Iñárritu movie, there is a bit of pretentiousness. He has never been a subtle filmmaker. Yet, “The Revenant,” however hellish it gets, is a step above most of his films because it’s mostly linear in its scope and doesn’t detract from its main theme of a man on a mission.
Set in the 1820s, the film starts quickly as a group of Americans, while trying to load a ship with goods, are attacked by Native Americans. After the attack, lead explorer Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and a few men are left to return home.
Glass is the men’s compass. He knows the land and surrounding dangers. Among those men counting on Glass is his Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a young naive soldier Bridger (Will Poulter), the leader of the pack Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and the colorful, selfish John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).
While the film is mostly, and stunningly, shot in grays and blues, Hardy gives the film some much-needed lift. Fitzgerald is the greedy one who thinks only of himself. He’s trying to be a sly fox, and it’s a role Hardy does well as he has in the past in films such as “Bronson” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The survivors need Glass. However, on the way back home, two bears attack Glass. He is all but dead. The title of the film means a person who has returned from the dead, and after watching this scene, you’ll get it. The scene isn’t a “bear rape” as previously reported, but it is brutal and effective.
After trying to trudge home with Glass in tow, the men essentially leave him for dead. Fitzgerald, Bridger and Hawk agree to stay with Glass for a little bit amongst a harsh winter, but circumstances soon make that impossible. Meanwhile, that same Native American tribe is still on the hunt, its leader looking for his lost daughter.
What follows is a survival tale. After the quick ramping up in the beginning, the film settles down to show the lengths to which Glass would go to exact his revenge. As he once told his son, Glass remembers to keep breathing and to be stable like a tree stump. It’s memories like this that keep Glass going.
Though DiCaprio isn’t given many lines, he shows a determination and will. You feel his pain as he trudges through dirt, scars across his back and neck. You grimace as he tries to patch up a wound with gun powder.
“The Revenant” is best when it focuses on cat-and-mouse between Glass and Fitzgerald. That’s not to say this is a chase movie or some blood-fueled bonanza.
No. Perhaps the worst part about the film is that Iñárritu strays from the simple tale to inject themes of spirituality, faith and other storylines into an already gripping tale.
In “The Revenant,” there’s repetition and Terrence Malick-esque sequences that feel like Iñárritu is behind you while you watch it, whispering, “This is cinema.” Some of it beautiful. Some of it unnecessary. Then, the final frame shows he still doesn’t quite know when to end a movie.
There is power in this film. You can see it in every frame, thanks the wonderful photography from Emmanuel Lubezki. DiCaprio is at the top of his game, as is Hardy.
Once you start settling in, here comes Iñárritu poking his head in with some whim.
You just wish he could cut himself out of an otherwise great film.