Fresh off his Academy Award winning film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro Inarritu brings us The Revenant – a western thriller adapted from Michal Punke’s 2002 novel.
The Revenant isn’t necessarily a biopic, but it’s influenced by the life of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a frontiersman in the 1820’s. While guiding a group of fur trappers through the snow packed mountains, Glass is savagely attacked by a bear…twice. After suffering multiple life threatening injuries and unable to continue traveling through the mountains, Glass is left in the care of his Native American son and two volunteers, Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and a criminal named Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who agreed to stay until Glass dies and give him a proper burial. Consumed with selfish desires, Fitzgerald murders Glass’ son and convinces Bridger they must flee because there’s a Native American tribe nearby. The two men abandon Glass and leave him to die.
Even with his injuries, Glass is able to dig himself of out the grave – literally and figuratively. Alone and starving, his thirst to get revenge on Fitzgerald is the only comfort he has while trying to survive a harsh winter and make his way to Fort Henry.
At its core, The Revenant is a revenge film. It’s possibly the most beautifully shot revenge film of all time. Inarritu’s incredible camerawork makes the most mundane scenes look breathtaking. The film is filled with beautifully shot dreamlike flashbacks while, at the same time, capturing the harshness of the conditions in the mountains.
During The Revenant’s production, it was rumored this would be Leonardo DiCaprio’s year to win an Academy Award. DiCaprio’s always had an, “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” relationship with the Academy. It wasn’t a lie, DiCaprio is fantastic. He spends most of the film suffering with 1 ½ feet in the grave. What the rumors failed to mention was how amazing Tom Hardy is as Fitzgerald. Hardy is phenomenal. He’sgood and he just keeps getting better. Hardy is given so much more to do than DiCaprio, and that’s not to take away from what DiCaprio does with his screen time, but most of it is him grunting and trying not to die.
One of Hardy’s best scenes is Fitzgerald telling Glass to die and save everyone some time. Unable to talk, Fitzgerald tells Glass to “just blink” as a sign that he agrees. It’s an awesome scene that shows what kind of person Fitzgerald is. He’s a despicable human being, yet Hardy makes it impossible to take your eyes off of him.
From the opening moments the film is unrelenting with its violence. Arrows shoot through heads, people getting chopped up and the violence never lets up. If it’s not the arrows and musket rifle deaths, there’s a Buffalo eaten raw, numerous horses die (one in a nod to the Luke Skywalker/tauntaun scene in The Empire Strikes Back), and Glass eats the 1820’s version of sushi.
All of that happens on top of the vicious bear attack. As violent as it is, and it’s a really violent scene, the bear attack is one of the most amazing scenes of 2015. It’s long and it’s brutal. The scene makes Bane’s pummeling of Batman look like a thumb wrestling match. The only thing Inarritu allows in the frame is Glass and the bear. Even the people who only watch those scenes through finger glasses can’t be saved.
The brilliance of Inarritu is taking a gritty revenge film and turning it into a visual masterpiece. Inarritu infuses everything that makes going to the movies entertaining without sacrificing his art. Had The Revenant been made in 1990’s, it would’ve been called The Grizzly Man and starred Steven Segal opposite Dean Cain. In the hands of a talented director, it’s not a bloated action drama, but a revenge film with style.