A bear is murdered by an out-of-control furrier and comes back to life to stalk down his killer in The Revenant!
Nah. Can you imagine?
We have to admit though that when we heard Leonardo DiCaprio got raped by a bear (twice!) in this new film, we were rooting for the bear. Nothing personal, just that Ursine-Americans are rarely (and unfairly!) portrayed by the elite hairless apes in Hollywood.
Anyway, The Revenant is Inarritu’s—he’s lucky if I get the number of “n”s and “r”s in his name right, so don’t be talkin’ to me about them funny foreign squiggles in his name—follow up to the 2014 Best Picture, Birdman, and it’s about as far as possible from that film, content-wise.
This is a bloody, brutal film with all kinds of violence, as well as a not soft-soaped view of life in the 1820s West. Animals are killed and skinned. People are killed and skinned, or at least scalped. Arrows hurt. Guns are inadequate to many of the tasks they’re called on to perform. Vegetarians are forced to eat raw liver! Well, okay, DiCaprio (a vegetarian) ate raw bison liver (for real, they say), but it’s unlikely that the real Hugh Glass was a vegetarian.
Because, you know, how freaking ridiculous would that be?
And, look, I love Dances with Wolves as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is James Cameron) but I agree with the L.A. Weekly critic who refered to it as “a goofy fairy tale”. The Indians in this movie? They’re freakin’ scary. They’re not demonized: Some are good, some are bad—at least from particular perspectives which might easily shift—and at least one tribe is a candidate for the eponymous revenant, quite apart from Glass.
But they’re not candy-asses. If the Indians have been slandered by white, western culture, the worst slander has to be this notion that they were mystical, peace-loving earth-worshippers as opposed to tough-as-nails bastards living in a post-apocalyptic (at least to them) world.
The story, dressed up a bit from the true one, is that Glass and his half-breed son are on a pelt gathering trip that goes bad when they’re raided by some tribe (the Arikari) and must abandon their pelts in the hopes of getting to “civilization” alive. (And while I don’t question western civilization’s superiority in general to what was left of Indian culture in 1820, there’s not much to the fort they’re trying to escape to apart from high walls.)
A troublemaking furrier, Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy, whom I once again did not recognize) gets pissed off about not making the money for the furs, then even more pissed off when Glass is nearly eaten by the (now famous CGI) bear. Nearly eaten being the problem: Trying to bring him along slows the party down, and Fitzgerald contrives a way to kill Glass, deceptively roping a young man (Will Poulter, Maze Runner, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) into his plot. The movie juices this up by having Fitzgerald kill Glass’ son.
This is all in the trailer by the way, and not really the point. The point is Glass’ amazing journey to get revenge.
The title, the trailers and all the buzz are focused around the revenge plot, but this is not, I repeat, not a revenge picture. It’s a survival picture. And it is amazing in that aspect: South Dakota—well, south Argentina, due to scheduling issues—is a barren, inhospitable land that is as strikingly beautiful as it is completely hostile. But I realized, probably an hour-and-a-half into this 2.5 hour film, that there was no way the act of revenge itself could live up to the struggle for survival.
And it doesn’t. I found it adequate. The Boy thought it was too Hollywood. I would concur with the “too Hollywood” notion if I could think of a single way to fix it. It was anti-climactic as it was, anything more realistic would’ve been even moreso. (Interesting note: The real Glass killed neither of his two companions. He forgave the first because he was so young. And the real villain, he forgave because he didn’t want to face the music for murder.)
Anyway, it’s beautiful. And Inarritu, while not doing the “all one shot” trick of Birdman, lets the camera float around the proceedings in a similar fashion, which (while occasionally feeling a bit pretentious) has one very salubrious effect: In today’s quick-cut world, directors tend to fail to communicate to the audience the actual space the action is taking place in. This makes it very hard to get invested in the action. Furthermore, because of the quick cuts, they can cheat about where things are—I’m thinking of Run All Night, from about a year ago, where this was egregiously done—and because they can, of course they do. In fact, I think, these days, they don’t really map things out to make sense, because they know they can just edit everything together.
I liked the score. Well, part of it. Sometimes it was just ambient tones, which worked in some places and not in others, I thought. (There are no less than three composers credited. I think they may have even been mixed together, post-facto.)
This is probably my favorite diCaprio role. I think it’s because he doesn’t talk much, and I find that when he talks, whatever airs he’s putting on (Boston accent, say) are a distraction. Hardy is fabulous. Domhnall Gleeson (Ex-Machina, Brooklyn, Calvary, etc.) is so good, you once again forget he was a Weaselly.
The bear was great. Oscar for him.
Actually, the bear was a nice bit of CGI. The scene could not have been done effectively any other way. At the same time, I don’t expect it to age well. There’s a fair amount of shock in it, and even so, you can see the “cracks”. Once the shock wears off, it may even look hokey. But again, it was very necessary.
That’s a brutal scene, by the way. It was impossible for me to not think of Timothy Treadwell.
The Boy and I liked it, but we weren’t really blown away. The ending was just not up to the sparsely-but-effectively drawn characters, the stunning scenery, and the otherwise gripping action.