Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fur trapper in 1823 Wyoming. He is one of a party of trappers making their way through the frozen hinterland. He travels with his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and is protective of the boy because Hawk is half Pawnee. Glass’s connection to the Pawnee puts him under suspicion in the mind of Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy); a ruthless man who seeks personal gain in any situation. His distrust of Glass means the two clash constantly.
The trappers struggle against the elements, internal disharmony and attacks from the local Ree tribe. The expedition suffers a significant number of deaths and they wonder how they can carry on. At this point, Glass is severely wounded and cannot be moved for several days. The rest of the party continues travelling, leaving Fitzgerald and a youngster called Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) to take care of him. Bridger and Fitzgerald are derelict in their duty and the injured Glass is left to find his way out of the wilderness without a horse, a weapon or a food supply.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose feature BIRDMAN picked up four Oscars in 2015, has returned with an epic adventure movie. The screenplay is adapted from Michael Punke’s 2002 novel; a work of fiction based on the lives of historical figures. The term “revenant” refers to a person who returns from the dead. Glass crosses 600 miles of harsh terrain, driven by a need to survive and a desire for revenge. The clarity of his quest and the obstacles he must endure give Glass’s story a bleak simplicity. The audience is always on side, willing him on.
Even those of us who aren’t DiCaprio fans, can see his performance here is something special. There are long sequences of wordless action where we follow Glass step-by-step as he drags his broken body towards help. We rely on the actor’s non-verbal communication skills to convey Glass’s thoughts and emotions. Tom Hardy is also excellent (and largely unrecognizable) as the tough, selfish Fitzgerald. Will Poulter is good in a small part as the easily manipulable Bridger.
The movie was shot in Canada, the United States and Argentina. There were tales of tension between the cast and the director. Crew members were fired, although this could have something to do with the logistical nightmare of a physically punishing shoot running for nine months in three countries. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shot everything in natural light which is more or less unheard of outside of the Dogme 95 manifesto. It also restricted the number of hours per day where shooting was possible. Nonetheless, the result is a superbly crafted film with breath-taking visuals.
THE REVENANT is a tale of survival. As in Iñárritu’s BIUTIFUL (2010) and BIRDMAN (2014) it has a long-suffering protagonist going through a personal hell. The director is obviously attracted to stories where characters have their mettle thoroughly tested. The movie touches upon issues such as the destruction of Native American people and the natural environment, but does not delve deeply. Some audiences be reminded of DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990). I felt it harked back to an earlier era of films like A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970) and JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972).
THE REVENANT clocks in at two hours and thirty-six minutes, but does not feel over-long. It contains violent scenes and yet is beautifully shot in stunning landscapes. It is a brutal drama that tells a compelling story that will keep audiences engaged from start to finish (8/10)
THE REVENANT opens in Australia today in wide release.