The Revenant: If you go down to the woods today you’re in for one hell of a time
Let’s get this said from the outset – The Revenant is an outstanding film in pretty much every way you can think of. I loved it, my wife loved it. But do not expect to walk out of the cinema smiling and feeling good. It just isn’t that kind of movie.
The Revenant provides a cast of characters that, while not always easy to watch, come together to tell a simple story of survival and vengeance in such an amazingly effective way that you will not want to miss a moment of it. Are some of the characters a touch stereotypical? Well, yes. Domnhall Gleeson as the spineless Captain Henry who realistically buries his head in the sand and then acts with gobsmacked outrage when the entirely predictable happens. Fabbrice Adde as the typically arrogant Frenchman, and, of course, the native Americans bemoaning their plight at the hands of the white men (which is fair enough, they deserve to be heard, but we the audience didn’t need to be spoon fed their plight. It was fairly obvious from the outset that their actions were not motivated by evil but rather necessity). Still, to be overly critical of these stereotypes would do this film a grave injustice. The Captain may be spineless, but Gleeson plays his role wondefully. The Frenchmen might be arrogant, but as the film progresses we come to understand this arrogance hides an immoral shamelessness. And the natives, well, they bemoan their plight once, and then spend the rest of the movie terrorizing both the characters and the audience in a way I have never seen on film before.
The early scenes of the film are grippingly memorable. The attack on the fur traders by the Ree Indians is brilliantly handled by both the actors involved and the astonishing camera work that follows the action in a way reminiscent of the Normandy landing in Saving Private Ryan. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu makes his intentions clear from the outset – this is going to be a stunningly beautiful, yet utterly brutal, couple of hours, and there’s going to be little respite.
The bear attack that follows is quite possibly even better again. For the record, I LOVE animal attack movies. Jaws is forever and always number one on my list, and I grew up watching such wonders as Cujo, Grizzly, Frogs (yes, that’s an actual movie) and the like. What I will say is this – the bear attack in The Revenant is probably the best animal attack I’ve seen put to film. I mean, we KNOW that Leonardo Di Caprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is going to survive. The movie is all about him. But we still fear what’s happening to him, we still feel his pain, and that bear looks like it could just tear his head from his shoulders at any moment. It is a prolonged scene, and one that isn’t easy to watch, but it is so brilliantly done I wish I could have been on set to actually watch them shoot it. I would watch this movie over and over again just for this one scene alone, and I’m pretty sure my heart would be racing each and every time.
I won’t give away any more than that regarding the story. I will say that both Di Caprio and Tom Hardy (as John Fitzgerald) are outstanding in their roles. Both could be considered leads in this film, both thoroughly deserve the plaudits that have come their way. Hardy is well backed up by Will Poulter, who plays his off-sider for much of the film (before coming to understand the kind of man Fitzgerald is) and Di Caprio shares some important screen time with virtually unknown actor Arthur Redcloud, who plays the Pawnee Indian that aids Glass in his recovery from the bear mauling. The movie has very little dialogue, especially the scenes involving Di Caprio, yet the story continually moves forward in a very engaging way.
I could say more, but there’s little point. This movie has tremendous depth, stunning visuals, wonderful camerawork, a cast that has very much earned their paycheck and a Director, with whip in hand, that has brought it all together superbly.