The Revenant, a 20th Century Fox movie is an exquisite tale of gore, featuring Hollywood born actor Leonardo DiCaprio as fur trapper Hugh Glass (1780-1833), fearlessly going where no man has gone before, truly to hell and back.
This is an extraordinary filming feat and a totally immersive and quite horrific experience.
It surely must be DiCaprio’s best movie performance to date, career defining, a larger than life biographical tale of American frontiersman Hugh Glass, best known to history and mentioned in a letter as surviving a severe mauling by a grizzly bear.
The movie is 156 minutes long, full of extreme carnage and brutal robust physicality, which lasts from the defining opening scene to the finale, the screen filled with multitudes of men covered in dirt and grime and with greasy nit filled hair that makes you literally squirm.
DiCaprio’s majestic performance is worth every acting accolade he can be granted, showcasing the extraordinary power of the human spirit to survive beyond what we may think is humanly possible.
Glass endures unimaginable grief and suffering when abandoned in the wilderness in winter without any food or weapons by his ‘beaver trapping’ companions from the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.
He surmounts many challenges and setbacks as he agonisingly claws, crawls and stumbles on an epic journey in the middle of winter in the ice and snow, back to Fort Kiowa in South Dakota nearly 300 miles away.
Set in 1823 in the wilderness of Montana and South Dakota, the film is indeed what could only be described, as a brutal essay on man’s inhumanity to man and his battle with the natural elements.
The wintery landscape with its rugged mountains, tall trees, crystal clear wide rapidly flowing rivers is indeed chilling, bleak, stark, and yet in so many scenes, ethereally beautiful.
Mexican born cinematographer and producer Emmanuel Lubezki skilfully captures the mesmerizing breathtaking imagery of nature at its most inhospitable.
Through the steamy power of the misty close-up, fogging up the lens, plus the sheer terror of the natural world of the wilderness captured in all its awesome grandeur, we are drawn from the opening frame into this mesmerizing and minutely detailed gruelling portrait of terrible suffering and survival on a grand scale.
This is brought home with force when Glass has to expand his failing energy to light a fire in some dry grass, which he has wound around a stick so that he can cauterise a gaping wound in his own throat, fusing the skin back together.
As the real facts in history surrounding this terrible tale are scant, it did allow Director and co-screenplay writer Alejandro G. Iñárritu an opportunity to expand the storyline.
He gives Glass, who skilfully guides his beaver trapping companions whose life is all about hard work, scarce rations and frequent peril into hostile terrain to gather pelts to sell, a son Hawk, born of an indigenous woman of the Pawnee tribe who was his beloved wife.
His wife and son’s inclusion partly explains why Glass is so good at tracking like a native and full of knowledge about Indian lore and survival techniques, which he employs to survive on his own landmark journey.
The youthful Hawk, Forrest Goodluck, dies terribly at the hands of the ruthless, unable to be redeemed mercenary trapper John Fitzgerald.
He’s played with chilling realism by Tom Hardy, a mighty performance of a man with a beast raging within. His presence ensures in our version of the storyline, Glass will survive until his son’s murder is avenged, while we can but hope he will find redemption
The film opens in an area of towering trees and icy running water as a fur-trapping expedition is in progress deep in the wilderness of the Rockies during the winter of the 1820’s.
A single shot rings out, causing them all to pause. The silence becomes deafening until the chilling sound of an arrow whistling through the air hits its mark, piercing one of the trapper’s throats.
Then the air is suddenly filled with arrows and the sounds of dying men as they all endeavour to survive an attack by Pawnee Indian warriors.
Thunderous hoof beats, falling bodies and anguished screams fill the cool air with blood curdling terrifying sounds, much like a wild symphony in a scene of woodland chaos.
The Pawnee Indian chief Elk Dog (Duane Howard) an Arikara warrior is trying to track down his daughter, Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o), who has been captured by a band of trappers
He doesn’t care who or how many people he kills along the way to finding her
Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Glesson) head of Glass’s expedition orders a full retreat downstream for those still alive, heading back to civilisation with only 10 out of the original 45 surviving to face another day.
Glass urges them to take a dangerous route to return, one never attempted before and only meets opposition from one man, John Fitzgerald who has some very radical ideas, which are usually expressed in outrageous verbal outbursts.
Following Glass’s advice, Captain Henry and the small band set out and it is on this trail Glass as he scouts ahead that he suddenly and unwittingly finds himself trapped between a mother grizzly bear and her cubs, and she charges.
How anyone could survive such an ordeal is staggering.
When it is happening the terrifying minutes seem to slowly tick by, as after inflicting terrible wounds, the bear leaves him behind.
Just when he thinks he might be safe, she lumbers back and attacks him yet again, this time doing horrendous damage, leaving him unable to speak or to walk. It is truly terrifying.
His companions find him and attempt to carry him on a makeshift stretcher, however the mountain is high the snow metres deep and it seems an impossible task.
This causes Captain Henry to order a few men to stay at his side while the rest make tracks for home. John Fitzgerald doesn’t like Glass and offers to stay and you can sense immediately that this is not going to have a good outcome. He’s ordered to stay until Glass dies so he can be buried with honour.
Tom Hardy is beyond mean and mighty impressive in his role as John Fitzgerald. He certainly teaches the audience to understand what hate really feels like.
When his charge stubbornly refuses to die it is his callous idea to leave Glass behind, burying him partially in a shallow grave after knifing Hawk Glass’s youthful son to death, for no other reason than because he could.
Fitzgerald’s naïve, weak and gullible companion Bridger (Will Poulter) doesn’t really want to leave Glass either, but is far more scared of the bullying Fitzgerald and the unforgiving wilderness and so he goes along with the plan.
As they leave he pauses compassionately to quietly throw a tin canteen of water onto Glass where he lays and then he and Fitzgerald disappear off into the unknown.
DiCaprio as Glass suffers mercilessly for his son, his art and his survival. Along the way he is washed downriver over a series of waterfalls. Finally coming ashore a lone Indian Hikuc (Arthur RedCloud) shares a meal of raw liver with him, carrying him on his horse and building him a shelter from the cold.
He also tends to his wounds with native herbs so they will heal, leaving him enclosed in a hut of twigs and warmed by a fire to rest and recover.
Striking out again, Glass again encounters the Arikara warriors and hears that they are trying to track down Elk Dog’s only daughter.
Later on he comes across the team of French trappers all drunk around a camp fire and observes their leader leaving the camp, dragging a young Indian woman to the outskirts of the camp to rape her.
He rescues Powaqa and sets her free, before escaping himself on one of their horses as the warriors arrive.
They pursue him until he suddenly finds himself hurtling off a cliff with only his horse to break the fall.
It’s dead but saves him twice, the second time when he clears out the entrails so he can climb inside its carcass to keep warm.
When one of the trappers turns up at the fort nearby carrying the flask Bridger left, which Glass dropped during the escape, Captain Henry races to find his friend.
Glass’s arrival at the fort is not only like a miracle incarnate, but also only at the beginning of the next part of the story. For Glass and Captain Henry are compelled to go in pursuit of Fitzgerald, who as left the fort, fleeing for his life when he discovers Glass is alive.
Catching up with him will only mean more horror, until ultimately Glass emerges victorious. This happens finally with some redemption when he does not have to kill his adversary.
Glass’s unlikely ally Elk Dog, who just happens to be passing by does that for him, in thanks for his daughter’s life. This pleases the spirit of Glass’s lovely Indian wife, who has come to him often in a vision throughout his terrible ordeal.
Your whole perspective on this movie cannot fail to be affected by the knowledge the entire team filmed for over nine months in the remote Canadian wilderness during winter, using only natural light shooting very small portions of the action each day.
Long and gruelling doesn’t seem enough to say, except to point out that this may very well just be the movie of the year for 2016.
As I emerged into the late afternoon summer sunshine our of the Palace Cinema Como at South Yarra in Melbourne, I felt sincerely glad that I hadn’t lived at the time of the old west!
The Revenant certainly held me captive all afternoon and in total awe of Leonardo DiCaprio and his formidable talent.
There wasn’t a moment throughout that he did not fail to keep raising that bar of acting excellence higher, and yet even higher again for himself, as well as that of the whole cast and the crew.
Now showing at a cinema near you, despite The Revenant being the most truly gruesome movie that I have ever seen, its brilliance is undeniable. Definitely 5/5
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
PS: 11th January, 16:00 News
Winner Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture, Winner Golden Globe Award Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama to Leonardo DiCaprio and, Best Director – Motion Picture to Alejandro Inárritu
Watch the Trailer