The Revenant

 

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This amazing western may have its imperfections but it astounds and calls for a detailed 

review.


For some years now the western genre, once a Hollywood staple, has had a chequered history. Even so it shows no sign of dying out and at intervals a film comes along that breathes fresh life into it. In 1992 Clint Eastwood’s dark western Unforgiven stood out in this way and now we have The Revenant which seems destined for comparable stature. Í say that despite the fact that the film is ultimately less satisfying than it leads one to expect because, regardless of my reservations about it, this is truly a knock-out movie.

There are times when a film is absurdly hyped up ahead of its arrival, but all the advance publicity surrounding The Revenant proves to be amply justified. The tale that it tells has a factual basis, albeit one that quickly became the stuff of legend. Hugh Glass, here portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, was a frontiersman who survived a savage mauling by a bear in the year 1823 when in the region of the Upper Missouri River. His extraordinary story was one of survival as the seriously injured Glass travelled miles intent on vengeance against the man who had not only left him for dead but had murdered the son born to him by a Pawnee. Tom Hardy plays this man, John Fitzgerald, and the drama that unfolds also incorporates major roles for Domhnall Gleeson as the leader of the pelt seeking expedition for whom Glass has acted as guide and for Will Poulter as a youngster who is part of the group and who gradually realises what Fitzgerald has done.

 

Revenant - Tom Hardy

Survival of the fittest: Tom Hardy

 

The Revenant was made by the Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu whose career has been extraordinary. He started out on home ground with the acclaimed Amores perros (2000) and followed it with 21 Grams (2003), both multiple narrative pictures that proclaimed not only his talent but his ambition. If Babel (2006) with its world-wide settings suggested that the ambition could outrun the talent, his next work, the wonderfully intense Biutiful (2010) made in Spain, restored our faith in him. But what has happened since has been unexpected. Despite some of his work being in English (21 Grams and parts of Babel), Biutiful had seemed to reassert his role as a director of subtitled films so it was hardly to be expected that his next two works would embrace English, wholly so in Birdman, the 2015 Oscar winner, and mainly so in The Revenant. But the surprise goes further in that the tough, actionful world of The Revenant could hardly be more different from that of the idiosyncratic and some would say vastly overrated Birdman.

However, Iñárritu’s sensibility remains unchanged favouring as it does large scale works and one notes that the screenplay credit here shared by Mark L. Smith and the director indicates that The Revenant is based on a novel by Michael Punke but only in part. There is no doubt at all that as told on screen Glass’s story becomes an epic. There is, though, no sense of a small story being inflated but instead an awareness that we are watching a narrative blending a paean to man’s power of survival with a personal drama driven by the need for revenge but encompassing the possibility of redemption and justification. So broad is this that one ascribes the character of the piece to Iñárritu first and foremost.

The film’s epic character is reflected in its length (156 minutes) and towards the end the film extends the final confrontation between Glass and Fitzgerald in a way that I find exaggerated, although I am aware that modern-day audiences more readily like this kind of thing than I do. In addition I am not convinced by the film’s quasi-religious element sometimes present in dreams or hallucinatory images. This spills over into the film’s last shot and brings a touch of sentimentality into an otherwise tough film. However any disappointment I felt at the close may have been the greater because of the remarkable quality found in the rest of this film.

 

Revenant, The

Gunning for survival: Leonardo DiCaprio

 

So what is it that marks out The Revenant as a film that will become a classic? Essentially it is one’s awareness that watching it is a special experience. Preferably seen on a large screen, the film takes you over. Partly it is the magnificent photography in colour and ’Scope by Emmanuel Lubezki making great use of location filming in hazardous conditions. Partly it is the degree of conviction achieved (the already famous scene of the attack by the bear appears so authentic that you could swear it was for real even though you know it was not). And partly it is the impact as in an early Indian attack that results from the brilliant use of natural sounds combined with the skilled editing of Stephen Marrione. Furthermore you can add to all that the excellence of the cast – not just DiCaprio’s commanding and committed  presence at the film’s centre but the villainous strength of Tom Hardy and the extremely well-judged performances from the younger players, Will Poulter and Forrest Goodluck. Even if you happen to share my doubts about the later stages of The Revenant, you will emerge from the cinema aware that at its best the film’s immense power makes it unforgettable. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Melaw Nakehk’o, Paul Anderson, Lukas Haas.

Dir Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Pro Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Iñárritu and others, Screenplay Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu based in part on the novel by Michael Punke, Ph Emmanuel Lubezki, Pro Des Jack Fisk, Ed Stephen Mirrione, Music Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, Costumes Jacqueline West.

 

A Regency Enterprises presentation/RatPac Entertainment/A New Regency, Anonymous Content, M Productions, Appian Way production etc.-20th Century Fox.
156 mins. USA/Hong Kong/Taiwan. 2015. Rel: 15 January 2016. Cert. 15.