Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Revenant: A Review


Revenant means "a person who returns" or "a person who returns as a spirit, a ghost" (courtesy of  It is a fitting title for The Revenant, this dark tale of survival and revenge, though I think a better title would be Leonardo DiCaprio's Naked Oscar Plea Number 8047. No more illustrious biopics (The Aviator) or toying with exotic accents (Blood Diamonds).  Having failed to win with these usually-Oscar proof roads to victory, this time, he's taking a page from Eddie Redmayne by suffering for his Oscar.  The Revenant is by now means a bad movie, but it is an unnecessarily long movie, and one that I find hard to fully embrace.

Out in the West, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is the guide to a group of fur trappers who have been ambushed by a group of Native Americans.  The natives believe this party is holding the chief's daughter prisoner, though in reality they are not connected with the real abductors.  Having fled on a boat with a smaller group, Glass, his half-native son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), and the others float down the river until Glass convinces them they are sitting ducks if they stay on the boat. Over the very loud objections of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), they abandon the boat and the furs and go across the mountains to safety at Fort Kiowa.

While scouting alone, Glass is mauled by a grizzly defending her young (the infamous 'bear rape' scene).  His wounds are many, and he is barely clinging to life.  The others discover him after he fires one shot, and again over the objections of Fitzgerald, who thinks Glass should be put out of their misery, their leader, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhall Gleeson), insists they carry Glass.  After a while though, Glass becomes too much of a burden, and Henry tries to follow Fitzgerald's advice.  Finding he can't kill a man still alive, he instead asks for volunteers to stay with Glass while the others attempt to reach the fort, to rescue them later.  Hawk stays with his father, as does Jim Bridger (Will Pouter) and, in a surprise, Fitzgerald.

Naturally, this is a bad decision, as Fitzgerald appears convinced (or convinces himself) that Glass wants to die.  As Fitzgerald attempts to smother him Hawk comes upon him, and Fitzgerald kills him.  He then tells a surprised Bridger that he's seen natives and they must flee, forcing them to bury Glass alive (albeit barely), with Hawk perhaps lost (Bridger unaware he's dead).

An enraged Glass wills himself to live, and slowly, very...very...slowly, he heals to where he is functioning, avoiding the wrathful natives still on his trail in his quest to revenge his son.  He finds help with another native who like Glass has had his family killed.  He advises him that 'revenge is for the Creator', not man.  Unfortunately, the native is lynched by a group of French trappers while Glass is asleep, neither aware of the other.  Glass finds that a native woman is being held prisoner and in a cross of revenge for his friend and a need for a horse he kills two of them and runs off with a horse, freeing the woman (who is the chief's daughter) in the process.

Soon Fitzgerald's lies come back to haunt him as Henry and Bridger put the various pieces together, culminating in Glass' reemergence.  Fitzgerald attempts to flee to Texas, stealing the fort's money in the process, and Henry and Glass join to hunt him down.  Not all of them survive, and Glass finds that revenge truly does belong to the Creator.

Another Oscar, Another Lecture...
As I said, The Revenant is not a bad film. The score is quite impressive.  It is also beautifully photographed by director Alejandro G. Inarritu's cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki.  I will concede that.  However, that might be part of the problem.

At two-and-a-half hours one wonders why we had to be treated to seemingly endless shots of the mountains, the rivers, the snow.  Especially the snow, piles and piles of snow.  One person next to me started softly singing "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" when we go for yet another snow-falling sequence.  Personally, I thought it bordered on parody.  There should or could have been something Inarritu could have cut or trimmed to make it a tighter, shorter story apart from all the transitions. 

Could not one of those dream/vision sequences where Glass sees his Native American wife floating through the air or some rather dreamy walk through a burned-out village or a surprisingly violent ambush have been cut or trimmed?  Did we really need all those mountain flyovers?

Moreover, part of the story was a bit perplexing.  Why did the Native American chief think these trappers had his daughter?  As far as I remember no one ever acknowledged they were hunting the wrong people.  Maybe I missed it while attempting to stay awake, which I did, though The Revenant does try one's patience in that department.

In terms of performances, I think in retrospect Hardy got the better of Leo.  DiCaprio's was the more showy of the two: all intense suffering (physical and emotional, but particularly physical).  Hardy though had an equally difficult task: to make Fitzgerald someone who could bully all those around him while still showing a touch of subservience. I am still not completely convinced Tom Hardy is an actor.  I wish I could pinpoint it, but I can't (though I imagine if I met Hardy and said so, he'd pick me up and toss me across the room Inception-style for so much as saying 'hello').  Always scowling our boy Tom is.  However, The Revenant does give him a chance to show his usual gruff and angry manner.

Oh, how I'd love to see a movie where Tom Hardy gets a pie thrown in his face.

DiCaprio has been getting raves for his performance, and while I do think DiCaprio is a better actor than his detractors say, I am a bit of a loss to understand why this particular performance is his best.  He is very physical in it, but he seems to also be especially dour in this, managing to out-dour the perpetually grumpy Hardy.  Maybe it's just me, but this is a rare moment when I can see DiCaprio ACT rather than BE.  I believed him to be Howard Hughes, I believed him to be Jordan Belfort.  Here, I saw only Leonardo DiCaprio.  Worse, I saw Leonardo DiCaprio saying, "this is absolute hell, but it's worth it because I'm finally going to get the Oscar I've so long wanted and show I am an ACTOR among actors, not just the pretty boy in Titanic". 

In short, I had a hard time seeing Glass as human.  I also thought he was pretty dumb to a.) wander out there alone and b.) try to shoot the bear when it had left him alone the first time.  Sure, he was injured by the bear, but the second go-around made things worse.

And for the record there was no 'bear rape'.  Granted, a couple of the shots did make it look like the bear was entering him from behind, but there was no actual 'bear rape', so let's put that out of the way right here, right now.

I cannot say The Revenant was a bad movie.  It looks and sounds great, has some good performances in it.  In terms of a film, it's perfectly functional.  I can say that I was not moved by The Revenant.  It's not a film I'd watch again or that I think I benefited from by watching at all.  Serviceable though dour, The Revenant is not bad.

No pun intended, but in truth, The Revenant left me cold. 



  1. Wow, finally, a negative review! I have yet to see the film but I feel I would likely have the same, or similar, opinion as you. From watching the trailer and reviews, "dour" is what it looked like and it seems that it is what it was. I wonder if it will win Best Picture. It seems to have a lot of buzz. I hope not though.


    1. Technically, a C+ is the lowest 'positive' I can give, but I couldn't help think it was one of these 'important' films that thought too highly of itself.

      As for Best Picture, while I still have three more to see (and thank goodness for screeners) I'm leaning towards "Spotlight" taking it (though "The Big Short" is making inroads).

      No final decision until all have been seen.

  2. I agree with your comments. This is not a movie that warrants repeat viewing.

    If Leo ends up getting an Oscar, it will be more of a Consolation Oscar for all the ones he missed so far.

    Ditto for Hardy. He seems to be playing the same role over and over again.

    Have you seen Steve Jobs? I thought Michael Fassbender was pretty good in the role.


    1. It's a bad Oscar tradition to give people overlooked for prizes Oscars for 'the wrong role'. Unless voters ignore the calls to 'give it to Leo for SOMETHING, ANYTHING' I expect him to win.

      I did get a Steve Jobs screener, waiting to be seen. As far as I can tell, Fassbender is DiCaprio's only real competition.


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