First appeared on Blogcritics.
Nominated for 12 Academy Awards, director Alejandro G. Iñấrritu’s The Revenant is a gruesome tale of pain and loss and yet remarkably also an inspiring tale of survival and the integrity of the human spirit.
The incredible (based on a true story) journey of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Oscar nominated Leonardo DiCaprio) begins with him and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) as part of a group of trappers led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). They are deep in what was known in 1820 as northern Louisiana Territory. Along on the trip is John Fitzgerald (Oscar nominated Tom Hardy) who has a hatred of Native Americans because they once tried to scalp him in the past.
After a violent attack by the Arikara tribe, many of the men in their group are slaughtered. Glass, Hawk, Henry, Fitzgerald, and some others do escape on a boat. Henry defers to Glass’s intimate knowledge of the area and decides to abandon the boat and cut through the rough country to get to Fort Kiowa. Fitzgerald opposes this move mostly because he resents Glass and his half Native American son.
During their difficult overland journey, Glass inadvertently disturbs a few grizzly bear cubs and incurs the wrath of their mother. In one of the most brutal scenes in the film, the bear gnaws away at Glass as he valiantly fights back. Glass eventually kills the bear but is gravely wounded. Henry and the others find him and tend to him as best as they can. For a time they even try carrying him but it proves too arduous over the difficult terrain.
Fitzgerald argues that Glass is not going to survive these injuries and is holding them back. Henry decides to leave Glass with Fitzgerald, Hawk, and young Bridger (Will Poulter) with the understanding that they will wait until Glass dies and give him a proper burial.
Henry and the rest are not gone too long before Fitzgerald tries to suffocate Glass, but Hawk intervenes and they fight. Fitzgerald kills Hawk, drags away his body, and lies to Bridger that Hawk has been taken by the Arikara.
Although Bridger protests, Fitzgerald is soon digging a shallow grave, dragging Glass into it, and covering him with dirt. Fitzgerald takes Glass’s rifle and everything else from him, but Bridger leaves Glass a canteen.
After they are gone Glass somehow manages to drag himself out of the grave and thus the figurative and literal revenant embarks on a grueling journey in which he will battle to survive in order to return to the fort and get justice for Hawk and himself.
To tell much more would really be spoiler territory, but the general focus during the rest of the film involves DiCaprio doing everything he can to overcome the elements and avoid the Arikara. His performance captures the struggle with broad and subtle nuances, and flashbacks remind us of the love he had for his Native American wife (Grace Dove) and how he lost her during an attack when Hawk was little.
At one point a starving Glass is assisted by Hikuc, a friendly Pawnee (Arthur Red Cloud). Glass and Hikuc exchange stories (both have lost their wives and children), and though Glass seeks revenge Hikuc does not. He tells Glass, “Revenge is in the hands of the creator.” Glass considers this but still also wants to make Fitzgerald pay for what he has done.
Iñấrritu’ manages to keep the film moving briskly, even though there are moments that slow down but do not diffuse the power of the action. The landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful, and the harsh environment is another character in a sense, an obstacle for Glass to overcome and a no less formidable antagonist than Fitzgerald.
In some ways the movie is really two films – one about Glass overcoming extraordinary circumstances and the other about the nature of colonization and the destruction of the Native American way of life. While the Arikara may seem brutal and murderous, they are not much different than the grizzly bear trying to save her cubs. The Arikara Chief (Anthony Starlight) is on a quest to rescue his daughter Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk'o) who has been kidnapped by trappers.
Thus the film is about families shattered and men trying to right wrongs done to them. Glass uses all his frontier knowledge to try to forge ahead and survive, while the Chief does the same to track those responsible for what happened to his daughter.
This is DiCaprio's best performance to date – he inhabits Glass and breathes life into what is a difficult role to pull-off. Hardy is excellent as the unapologetic killer and thief who sees the world as unfair and is determined to get his share.
The rest of the cast does a great job, and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is stunning. Add a resonant musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Graeme Revell, and this nominee for Best Picture certainly makes a case for being worthy of 12 Oscar nominations.
This is a difficult movie to watch with no comic relief to break the tension. Still and all you will be enthralled by the scenery, repelled by the brutality, and captivated by the powerful performances that make The Revenant a must see film before watching the Oscars.
Photo Credits: foxmovies.com