Years from now when people look back at “The Revenant,” one thing is really going to stand out – the brutality of this film. This movie depicts both man and nature at their worst and it absolutely glues you to the screen. The movie is part survival story, part revenge tale and it depicts both unflinchingly. For example, the bear attack is one of the most intense animal attack scenes shown on the big screen since “Jaws.” As a kid I used to be morbidly terrified of camping and I still kind of am, so yeah this film didn’t help much in that regard haha. This film captures the horror of a bear attack in all its frightening glory. Things don’t get much better for poor Hugh Glass after the attack. His gaping wounds have to be treated, he has to drag himself to civilization, and he has to run from pursuing Arikara warriors all while in an ice-cold environment. If you are at all squeamish about injuries on film, you’d probably do well to avoid “The Revenant.”
I was also very impressed with this film’s depiction of Native Americans. Too often movies take the politically correct route and depict them as tree-hugging peaceful victims of the white man. But if you take time to study the actual history of them, you know that they are an incredibly complex society capable of horrifying acts of terror as well as astounding acts of compassion. The film starts out showing them attacking the trappers in a ferocious battle that justifiably had me not taking my eyes off the screen. Arrows pierce skulls… and every other part of the body. Attacks come out of nowhere. It’s one of the most brutal action scenes shown on the big screen this year (and almost done in a long, continuous take). Seriously Alejandro, you could’ve bought me dinner first. However, later in the film, we see other Pawnee natives helping Hugh Glass survive though they had every reason to leave him to die. We see Arikara warriors speaking French. They are contrasting depictions that add depth and humanity to them, not a sanitized version like we’re used to.
As you might expect, DiCaprio is excellent as Hugh Glass. Maybe this will be the year he finally takes the Oscar. Side note: The whole time I watched this I couldn’t help but laugh at times thinking to myself, the things Leo will go through to get that damn award, I seriously just want someone to re-edit the trailer and sub out Tom Hardy’s character with an Oscar trophy haha (ok back to the review now). While most of his role consists of being tortured on screen, I will say he does it convincingly. There’s a drive and ferocity in his eyes that makes you believe he just might survive all of the abuse that would kill other men. He’s supported as well by an excellent cast, most notably Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald. Having recently been seen as Mad Max, Fitzgerald is such a strikingly different character that you’d be forgiven for not realizing the same actor portrays them. Hardy is that good. Also notable are Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry and Will Poulter as Jim Bridger. Rather than being cartoony characterizations of a cowardly leader or a fearful young man, they come across as real people with the same reactions that you would expect from any human being thrown in this terrifying situation.
When you walk out of “The Revenant,” one of the first things you may want to do is look up the real historical account of what happened. It doesn’t take too many Wikipedia articles to make you realize that “inspired by true events” means “we changed a lot.” You find out that some characters never existed. You find out that other characters that died in the movie were spared in real life. You also find out that some of the stuff that Hugh Glass did to survive was far grosser and intense than what was in the movie. So it’s a little bit of a letdown that an otherwise realistic-appearing movie was a lot more fiction than you’d expect.
Along these lines, I also kept thinking, “How are these characters not dying of hypothermia?” Hugh Glass is repeatedly seen sleeping in freezing weather, completely submerged in ice-cold water, not wearing any gloves, etc. Again, for a film that seems to be trying to achieve a degree of realism, it didn’t seem realistic.
Those are all of course minor nitpicks I have. At the end of the day, this is just an awe-inspiring piece of visceral cinema, hats off to all around. I really hope Leo takes the Oscar this year. While at the end of the day, the Oscar race is meaningless at times. But after hearing what Leo went through in the shooting of the film, I think its time to give the man his due.