Editor’s Note: The Revenant opened in wide theatrical release December 25, 2015.
The Revenant is a work of art by director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. It is visceral, grim, hopeful, beautiful, frightening and joyful. At its core a story of survival and revenge, the film unabashedly comments on humankind’s place and relationship with nature and each other. Set against a breathtaking backdrop of mountains, rivers, trees and endless snow-covered land, and punctuated by moments of genuine, simplistic human connection—falling in love, embracing one’s child, laughing under a tree and catching snowflakes on one’s tongue with a friend—The Revenant is a 2.5-hour journey that will grip you from the time the first image appears onscreen until well after the credits roll.
The film is based on the 2002 novel The Revenant by Michael Punke which, in turn, was inspired by true events of 19th century Hugh Glass, who is brought ferociously to life by a nearly indescribably committed Leonardo DiCaprio.
Glass and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) belong to a party of trappers headed by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). When the group is attacked by the Arikara tribe, who are searching for the chief’s kidnapped daughter Powaqa, the survivors flee to their ship and eventually continue on foot. Glass, one of the best trackers, decides to go out alone on the second day to get a head start, and ends up severely mauled by a mother grizzly protecting her cubs. He is found near death by his men; Henry sews up his wounds as best he can, and they strap him to a gurney. However, aware they are being tracked by the Arikara and that they are critically so slowed down by having to carry Glass, Henry offers a cash reward to three men who volunteer to stay behind with Glass until he dies and give him a proper burial. Hawk, a young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) volunteer. A series of events finds Fitzgerald and Bridger abandoning Glass alive, half-buried in a grave, Hawk dead, and grief, anger and determination propelling Glass to find the strength to crawl forward and seek his revenge.
The film is based on the 2002 novel The Revenant by Michael Punke which, in turn, was inspired by true events of 19th century Hugh Glass, a trapper who, after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by his men, struggles solo through the unforgiving wilderness to enact his revenge. Glass is brought ferociously to life by a nearly indescribably committed Leonardo DiCaprio, who carries the film and from whom you cannot look away, no matter what gore or violence is unfolding onscreen. It is an astounding performance that deserves all the murmurs that came before the film’s release, as well as the continued chatter and buzz now that the film is in theatres. It is, if not the best performance of his career, near the very top.
While The Revenant’s scenes of violence and gore are sometimes hard to stomach, they are never over-the-top or unnecessary…
The target of Glass’ revenge, Fitzgerald is a selfish, brutal trapper who lies and manipulates everyone around him to get what he wants. Hardy disappears into his character completely, embodying Fitzgerald’s remorseless, mad, sociopathic nature in his body, his speech and indeed, through his eyes. Gleeson’s Henry is strong, clear-headed and resolute in protecting his men and carrying out justice where he sees it is due, and Gleeson is successfully gentle and loyal, and strong and imposing. Goodluck is perfectly cast as Hawk, a teenage boy grieving the loss of his mother when he was a child, close and devoted to his father, and wrestling with his dual identity as the son of a white trapper and a Native American mother (Gracey Dove).
While The Revenant’s scenes of violence and gore are sometimes hard to stomach, they are never over-the-top or unnecessary; to downplay any of the motions that Glass undertook to stay alive, or to shy away from depicting the hypocrisy inherent in all players tossing around the word “savage” as they slaughter each other, would leave The Revenant untrue to its time 1820s time frame. Iñárritu forces us to take a look at the base human forces that both bring us together through moments of unexpected alliance, friendship, love and care, and tear us apart through selfishness and racism, while leaving us to consider what we should fight for and what should be left to God. Stunning cinematography, excellent acting and beautifully dark orchestral music bring Iñárritu’s vision to life in a haunting cinematic experience that easily requires at minimum a second viewing.
A mad, beautiful, dominating work of art, Alejandro Iñárritu's The Revenant is as moving as it is gruesome. The film features fine performances from the cast, including what may be a career-best turn for Leonardo DiCaprio.