The movie that finally won Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar and was heavily in the consideration for movie of the year, isn’t exactly what I was expecting.
Hugh Glass (Leonard DiCaprio) and his half Pawnee Indian son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) are with a group of trappers in the early 1800’s northern United States. The trappers fall prey to a sneak attack from Native Americans and have to escape with what they can. With their numbers heavily reduced, it is up to Glass to guide the men back to their fort. While scouting ahead of the group, Glass is attacked and mauled by a bear protecting its cubs. Glass manages to kill the bear, but is badly injured and near death. After trying to carry Glass back to the fort proves to be too difficult for the team, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) offers a reward for any men willing to stay behind and care for Glass. A young soldier, Bridger (Will Poulter), and a greedy veteran trapper, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), offer to stay behind with Glass and Hawk. This was probably not a great decision since Fitgerald had already proven that he wasn’t particularly fond of Glass or his half breed son.
Fitzgerald believes (probably not incorrectly) that trying to save Glass is a waste of time and that it would be better for everyone if he just accepts death. He tries to smother him, but he’s discovered by Hawk. Hawk calls out for Bridger’s help, but he’s murdered by Fitzgerald while Glass watches on helplessly. Fitzgerald convinces Brigder that they are under attack from other Native Americans and that they should save themselves. Bridger is very hesitant, but they leave Glass for dead. With his body ripped apart and his son dead, Glass fights to survive in the frozen wilderness so that he can get back to the fort and get revenge for his boy. Along the way, he gets crosses paths with a group of Arikara who are searching for a kidnapped princess named Powaqa; a pack of French pelt hunters who are in trades with the Native Americans and a friendly Pawnee named Hikuc. He fights against man, nature and his own injuries to get his revenge.
If I had to describe the The Revenant in one sentence it would be: It’s a pretentious revenge film that has depends heavily on the performances of two actors, two or three action scenes, and some beautiful nature shots. The plot for the movie is surprisingly sparse given all the praise I’d heard for the movie. As revenge movies go, this struck me as a strange early America version of Gladiator, just with less exposition. The continued flashbacks and visions to Glass’ wife never really hit me as having any impact. If anything, I would say that they were distracting and confusing. The meanings of the visualizations in the dreams were rarely identifiable and some of the visions flashed too quickly to even identify everything that was happening in them.
Aside from the uninterpreted visions, I thought the thing that made the movie feel pretentious was something that was actually really impressive in the movie: it’s depiction of nature. The movie has a not-so-subtle man vs nature theme. A large part of that is depicted by the cinematography of the movie which is, at points, absolutely stunning. There lots of shots that hold on images of still and moving nature, showing the serenity, beauty and danger of the environment the movie takes place in. While these shots are undeniably beautiful, they feel incongruous in a movie that’s about a man trying to get revenge for his murdered son. There were some great cinematic moments that happened in the movie that weren’t about nature, though. The opening battle with the Native Americans was captured (or made to look like) a continuous shot that helped capture the tension of the moment. Then there was what will likely be the most iconic moment from this movie: the fight with the bear. That’s one of those memorable scene that manages to be hard to watch and hard to look away from all at the same time.
It’s funny that I didn’t think about how good of a job DiCaprio did in that scene until I left the theater and considered that the bear definitely wasn’t real. That meant that it was really up to him and the director (and effects team) to create that moment. DiCaprio is really tasked with carry this movie. What makes that even more impressive is that he’s spending large amount of time doing that while grunting and crawling on his stomach. Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson both turned in strong performances as well, but they just don’t have as much to do in the movie as DiCaprio. Although, I will say that Tom Hardy’s character really drives a lot of the first act of the movie. I was also glad to see WIll Poulter in not the Maze Runner franchise.
While I was underwhelmed by this movie, there is a lot of objectively good stuff in it. It just doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that will stick with me as a whole in the long run. I will definitely remember that bear scene for a long time, but the rest of the movie doesn’t leave nearly as much of an impression. The imagery is beautiful, but feels almost like it belongs in a nature documentary than a revenge movie. The acting is good, but I will most likely remember the fact that DiCaprio won an Oscar for this performance more than I will the performance itself.
The Revenant (2015)
- Strong performances from DiCaprio and Hardy
- Some absolutely beautiful shots of the scenery
- You may never look at a bear the same again
- Story is exceedingly simple
- Seems pretentious for a revenge movie