Sometimes you get a film that really reminds you that living in pre-industrial times sucks. Such is the case with The Revenant helpfully reminding you on all the pleasant amenities you have like maps, vehicles, semi-reliable medical care, and a significantly reduced chance of getting your shit ruined by a bear.
So we find ourselves in the company of Leonardo DiCaprio trying his hardest to get his Oscar win the only way he knows how: by acting the crap out of suffering from a debilitating injury. Here he plays Hugh Glass, based on a real life wilderness explorer who went through a similar life story to DiCaprio’s character, save for the fact DiCaprio’s Glass has a half-Native son named Hawk. Anyways, after helping his hunting expedition escape from a tribe of Natives totaling their pelt collection business, Glass finds himself ripped to shreds when he crosses path with a grizzly bear just out defending her cubs.
Though he manages to kill the bear (and leave two cubs down a mommy, guessing Bambi had no effect on the director), Glass is left bleeding with dozens of cuts on his body. His hunting party knows for sure Glass is screwed. Doubly so since the aforementioned tribe is still chasing them on their heels. The party leader offers a cash reward to the man who’d stick by Glass until his death and give him a proper burial. Unfortunately the only people who take the job are two kids (one being Hawk) and Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy), a guy who has made abundantly clear he hates Glass and his halfblood son.
Getting impatient for the whole death thing to happen, Fitzgerald speeds up the process by trying to kill Glass but ends up murdering Hawk and leaving Glass for dead in a shallow grave…not even bothering to bury the guy thoroughly. Thus begins a very long pursuit across the American wilderness as Glass knits his body that more closely resembles a leaking bag of blood and organs to get some good old-fashioned eye-for-an-eye revenge on Fitzgerald.
Funny thing about Glass’ journey is that’s not as gruesome as the earlier bear mauling. Trust me, the bear attack is probably one of the most well shot scenes in film history, but the real life story of Glass’ wilderness survival was so much worse. After all, the real Hugh Glass had body parts hanging off of him and had to resort to letting maggots consume rotted meat on his person less he suffer from gangrene.
But I guess they took out gruesome details like that for the film version to pad the film out with long stretches of “contemplative” and “meditative” scenes of Glass crawling (literally) across forests and rivers as he hallucinates visions of his dead wife and son…all of which fell flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, a dead family member is a perfect revenge ingredient, but it works best when you see what a hole has been left in the vengeance-seeker. On that front, The Revenant doesn’t work as well as the filmmakers hoped. You hardly get to know Hawk before he gets the boot, and we’re only treated to tiny glimpses of Glass’ silent Native wife as she smiles on him from odd poses.
The cinematography in these scenes are quite gorgeous but these expanses of jack shit happening went far too long in a 150 minute film. Especially troubling when the scenes that are connected by these moments of reflection are genuinely well shot, well acted, and thoroughly tense. Some people prefer this style of filmmaking and deride others who don’t “appreciate” films like this as being sufferers of ADD. They may have a point on that front, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to accept it for this film which didn’t really have a major point to get to. There was nothing to reflect on besides “wow the wilderness sucks” and “wow Tom Hardy is really great at playing an asshole.”
This sort of experience didn’t really gel with me all that well even though I genuinely completely enjoyed specific parts of the movie. All in all, the parts I liked alone could very well make a 100 minute film. You can call me a dumb-dumb who needs his Ritalin, but this film has fuck all to say about anything regarding the human condition other than “revenge is sort of satisfying…but not really.”
People will hate me for this comparison, but screw it, Mad Max: Fury Road did a similar concept only better because that film was tightly edited in addition to having a surprising subtext of earth-nurturing feminists rising up against a patriarchy obsessed with muscle car and viking imagery emblematic of “machismo” ideals of masculinity. There was a lot going on in the background during the film’s own contemplative moments as the protagonists roamed the wasteland along with dialogue that helped you relate to each character.
The Revenant lacks a lot of the above but still manages to have the great struggle for survival that made Mad Max so gripping along with slightly better acting. DiCaprio and Hardy certainly have ferocity to their characters and DiCaprio goes for broke in depicting a man physically, emotionally, and mentally broken as he mends his body together for one last chance at vengeance.
In the end, it’s highly effective in several places, but perhaps the director’s penchant for being “artsy” in his delivery dragged on what is supposed to be a very simple tale. Honestly, it’s not Top 10 of 2015 material for me, and it is a bit weak that this is one of the front runners for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Nonetheless, for great sequences and a strong performance from DiCaprio nets this movie from me a very high…