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The Revenant - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Revenant
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B+

Well, I learned a new word today: "revenant" apparently means "a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead." That's how Google puts it, anyway. It certainly makes an apropos movie title for The Revenant -- particularly the "supposedly" part. Hugh Glass, played with few words but great resolve by Leonardo DiCaprio, has indeed been left for dead, by whiny bitch John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who thinks Glass should have just been left for dead after being severely mauled by a bear. Glass doesn't actually die, though. After seeing Fitzgerald kill his half-Pawnee son and then being left in a half-assed grave in the ground, Glass spends the second half of the movie recuperating, having an astonishing number of other near-brushes with death, and obsessively tracking Fitzgerald on a quest to get his revenge.

I guess "whiny" isn't quite an accurate description of Fitzgerald. He's certainly bitchy. He bitches and bitches. It's a bit of a mystery why anyone trusts him to be left behind to tend to Glass to recuperate. Honestly there were moments when even I wondered why everyone else didn't just agree that Glass should be put out of his misery. A group of men tries in vain to carry Glass, laid on a stretcher made of branches, up a steep snowy mountain hill. Nothing about that seems efficient. But, Glass is this group's hired navigator. He knows the best way to get around this early 19th-century wilderness. Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson, racking up quite the high-profile supporting roles this year, between this and The Force Awakens) insists he be taken care of.

Fitzgerald is resentful from the very beginning. In the opening sequence, Glass and his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), are hunting moose. Fitzgerald blames Glass for the ensuing chaos, after Glass fires his gun. There follows a graphic sequence of mayhem caused by attacking Indians, which, cinematically, is beautifully orchestrated and choreographed chaos. From very early on, director Alejandro González Iñárritu (who gave us 2014's fantastic Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)) and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who shot both Birdman and Gravity) offer stunning filmmaking. Several scenes are like this, including one in which Glass is later attempting to outrun Indians on horseback and he flies right over a cliff with his own horse. He later guts that same horse and sleeps inside of it to keep warm. At that point it kind of veers into "you've got to be kidding me" territory.

The scene in which Glass gets mauled by the bear, by the way, is one of the most intense and terrifying things I've ever seen on screen. It goes on a surprisingly long time, the bear coming back to slash and bite and jostle yet again after Glass tries to shoot it, following a first attack. The bear is obviously CGI but pretty convincingly rendered, all things considered. The scene is effective at what it's trying to do, which is to horrify the viewer. Having seen it, though, I'm pretty mystified by the Internet rumors of DiCaprio getting "raped" in this movie, which were pervasive enough that 20th Century Fox actually released a statement. What the hell is the bear going to rape him with, anyway? It's clearly a mother bear protecting the cubs we see onscreen first. People are idiots.

The Revenant has plenty of jaw-dropping horrors to offer without such stupid rumors. These white fur traders are being tracked by a group of Indians convinced they may have one of their women, who has been taken from their tribe. This film has a relatively unusual take on Native Americans, compared to most movies. To my ignorant, white eyes it seems almost pointedly objective: the Indians do many of the same types of unspeakable things to white people as the white people do to them. It's easy to understand their motives. One wonders how the Native American community feels about the film. It casts a large number of Native American actors, and one such woman in a small but key role, Melaw Nakehk'o, is reportedly on record as stating the portrayals are accurate: "I think it's probably the truest portrayal of that era."

These are important details, the kind that make a movie like this more appreciable. That doesn't make the core of the story here any less slight, however. The Revenant is gorgeously shot and impeccably acted, but it's still underneath it all just another revenge story. We don't get to know a huge amount about these characters. Glass's backstory deals with having fallen in love with a Pawnee woman and having a child with her. The woman was killed by white men. Fitzgerald has much of his hair missing because of an attempted scalping sometime before, giving him the deeper resentment needed to make it easier for him to kill Hawk, Glass's son, when he tries to stop Fitzgerald from killing Glass as he's strapped to a stretcher made of branches.

On paper, with their minimal dialogue, none of these characters have great dimension. They do get added depth from the performances. DiCaprio is getting all the attention but I would argue Tom Hardy gives the best performance. That guy's from London and still he disappears in all his roles, even high-profile ones (Mad Max; Bane in The Dark Knight Rises). He has a completely convincing accent as an 1820s American fur trader. It's easy to overlook how great the performance is because it's so easy to hate the character -- which, of course, is a testament to the acting.

Once we finally get to the inevitable showdown between the two of the at the end, you're a bit exhausted. And you haven't even seen any fingers get chopped off yet. To say this Hugh Glass guy gets put through the ringer is an understatement. And that climactic showdown, while not quite the most thrilling scene, is still surprisingly tense. The Revenant runs for over two and a half hours, and even by this point, it's a serious nail-biter. It's a lot of effort for a movie that falls a bit short of greatness, but it's still worth the effort.

Vengeance is what keeps Leonardo DiCaprio going in THE REVENANT.

Overall: B+
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