The Revenant Review
The Revenant (2015) Film Review, a movie directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Lukas Haas, Brendan Fletcher, Brad Carter, Javier Botet, Kristoffer Joner, Will Poulter, Paul Anderson, Robert Moloney, Dave Burchill, Kory Grim, Joshua Burge, and Vincent Leclerc.
The Revenant was a rare action-adventure movie filmed with long, gorgeous continuous shots of mayhem and drama whose harsh environment walked hand-and-hand with its protagonist on his Ulysses-like journey of revenge. The Revenant was a variant of a by-gone era of Hollywood that was more concerned about making an engaging film than a film’s potential for international sales and franchise viability.
The single-take camera work during the Arikara war party attack at the beginning of The Revenant was a defining moment for the film for two reasons: 1.) Alejandro González Iñárritu’s single take accomplishment was a feat most directors never approach because of its difficulty – one mistake, one missed cue by an actor, and the director has to start over again, and 2.) Iñárritu’s camera swerved and twirled around the battlefield, almost mimicking the chaos in a war theater from the perspective of someone on the ground (many of the attackers were in elevated positions – on horseback).
Leonardo DiCaprio has progressed through his career in the level of depth that he has been able to bring to his characters, allowing him to portray increasing complex, on-screen personas. DiCaprio previously hit that high point in his career with his portrayal of U.S. Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels in Martin Scorsese‘s Shutter Island. DiCaprio hit another high point with the single-minded determination that he brought to Hugh Glass in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant.
Hugh Glass could have easily been a standard action hero: tough, rugged, a man of few words, and unbeatable. Hugh Glass was not that classic and tired macho man archetype. Instead, Glass was given four layers: 1.) survivor, 2.) father, 3.) resourceful and resilient revenge-seeker, and 4.) dreamer that sought the company of a woman that was long dead.
The bear attack sequences captured by Iñárritu’s lens in The Revenant were the most graphic, grueling, and horrific bear attack scenes in film history. As the viewer watched them transpire, the viewer wondered how much damage would be dealt out and how much could Hugh Glass possibly take during its various stages. At one point (no, at many points) the viewer thought Glass would be killed, eaten, or killed and eaten. There was a complete suspension of belief (very rare in modern cinema) that the main character would actually make it through to the second and third acts of the film. Perhaps Iñárritu would do what Alfred Hitchcock did with Psycho and kill the main protagonist a half hour into the film.
That was not the case with The Revenant but Iñárritu made the viewer believe it was possible with every maul of the bear’s jaws and claw tear into Hugh Glass’ flesh. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s unwavering, hand-and-knees-close camera placement made absolutely sure of it.
The bear attack was the beginning of Leonardo DiCaprio’s masterful performance in The Revenant. His reactions sold the attack as each agonizing stroke of it was delivered.
When Hugh Glass lost the ability to speak, DiCaprio had to rely on all of his other acting muscles to communicate what was going on in Glass’ head.
Very few actors could pull off the range of emotions, e.g. when Hugh Glass’ son was killed, that DiCaprio was able to articulate with his face when Glass was unable to speak. DiCaprio gave the viewer what Glass was going through emotionally and physically with no ambiguity. It was one of the most impressive aspects of The Revenant and the pinnacle of Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in the film.
Tom Hardy accomplished a similar feat in The Revenant but to a far lesser extent. Since his character, John Fitzgerald, could speak at all times, the need to emote through his face to such a degree wasn’t present.
The deal between Hugh Glass and John Fitzgerald, the genesis of the antagonism between the two characters, was a standard revenge film trope reinvented. The reinvention came from the fact that Glass was willing and had consented to Fitzgerald killing him so that Fitzgerald, Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) could quickly exfiltrate the area before the Arikara war party chasing them caught up to them.
Hugh Glass had accepted death and not ever seeing his son again on that plane of existence. He’d made a hasty peace with it. What Hugh Glass hadn’t accepted or made peace with was never seeing his son again because Hawk was murdered before his eyes.
Hugh Glass’ journey back to Fort Kiowa in The Revenant was not just a journey towards vengeance fraught with danger. It was an exposé on various peoples, their environments, societal destruction, and most of all, human kindness. Hugh Glass never would have made it back, crawling on the ground or walking, without the helping hand of a stranger, a stranger that had nothing to gain by coming to his aid.
That stranger, a Pawnee named Hikuc (Arthur Redcloud), was the very opposite of John Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was a morally corrupt individual who thought only of his safety and immediate financial gain. He was a typical film villain but was also not a villain. John Fitzgerald’s main villainous act was reflexive, not intentional. Fitzgerald’s default reaction in a life or death situation was to kill, even if he only perceived a threat to his life or safety. That reflex must have been more acute with Hawk since Fitzgerald never liked Hawk. Hawk was the embodiment of the group of Native Americans that permanently mutilated Fitzgerald’s scalp.
Killing Hawk was like killing a phantom from Fitzgerald’s past. On some level, there must have been immense, undeclared personal satisfaction in that act for Fitzgerald. The same can be said for Hugh Glass when he let John Fitzgerald be killed by the Arikara chief instead of doing it himself.
The vision moment at the end of The Revenant was very much like the vision moment at the end Alex Proyas‘ The Crow. Both protagonists had lost someone they loved, both had come back from the dead (for the former, figuratively, for the latter, literally), and both had gotten their revenge. The Crow‘s vision ending, while open-ended, was poetic, morose, and sweet. The Revenant‘s vision ending, while ambiguous in its finally moments, was like the back-lid closing on a just-finished book. The viewer got it, just not completely.
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