Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant is an excruciating and almost choking survival tale of the legendary frontiersman, Hugh Glass. The movie is a study in the strength of the human spirit, the indomitable character at the face of imminent death and the lives of mercenaries and traders during the 1800s. The story is a straight up revenge drama of a man left to die in the wilderness by his troupes and the only thing keeping him alive are vengeance for his deceased son and the guiding spirit of his wife who appears to mutter to him through the chilling air of the mountains to “keep breathing”.
Iñárritu has mastered the art of weaving stories around protagonists with their backs to the wall. Be it the modern locales of New York or the dangerous and never ending terrains of the Rockies, both Birdman (the highly decorated Oscar winner from last year) and The Revenant this year are triumphant journeys of great measures. The story works best because the audience is entwined in the action from the initial few minutes itself. Master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki uses video game like POV camera work to make the set pieces tense with a sense of danger lurking in the vicinity. Iñárritu juxtaposes frenzied combat scenes with scenes in complete silence and struggle and the affects are magnificent.
The Revenant is the story of Hugh Glass (played with a commitment exceeding hundred percent by Leonardo DiCaprio) who was part of a fur trapper company enrolled to guide the traders in their ascend of the Missouri during the winter. Iñárritu and Lubezki do exceptionally well to capture the overwhelming feel of the mountains which act as a natural foe rather than a visually appealing background. Glass is acquainted with the landscape, as he had lived with the Pawnee tribes and also married one of theirs. His wife got killed in an ambush and from then on his son has been his constant companion during expeditions such as the one for which he is most known for in history. As luck would have it, Glass gets attacked by a grizzly and is rendered half dead. This scene is sure to be etched in the audience’s memory for a long time due to the sheer gruesomeness and vividness of the tussle. His leader values his knowledge of the area and does his best to revive him, but surrenders to the fact that Glass may not make it. Eventually the troupe proceeds on after assigning two of their men, the ill tempered and bordering on psychotic, Fitzgerald (Played by Tom Hardy) and the young Bridger to tend to the fast deteriorating Glass. Fitzgerald becomes increasingly restless at the futile assignment of tending to a guy counting his last breaths. At last, his nature gets the better of him and he kills Glass’s son in a fit of rage and buries Glass and elopes from the scene with young Bridger who was not a conniving partner in the crimes committed by Fitzgerald.
The rest of the story mostly focuses on the improbable journey taken by Glass to avenge his son’s death. In between he is attacked by the Ree army, helped by a native who was himself occupied with grief and revenge and the turmoils faced at the hands of mother nature. The end is predictable yet satisfying. But it’s the journey which is to be savoured here.
Leonardo gave his heart and soul to the character of Glass. He had to sleep inside a carcass, feed on actual Bison liver, scrawl through the ice and swim in the river currents. The movie gives a feeling of breathlessness which captures the struggles of Glass and for extended parts, the audience itself feels nauseated and choked at the hardships and gore unfolding in front of them. The visual effects team adds to the realism by stitching together scenes after scenes of pure human endurance. Be it the bear mauling at the start, the horsefall in the middle or the dream sequences which keep recurring to Glass.
Both Iñárritu and Lubezki often beak the fourth wall intentionally when the heavy breathing of Leonardo engulfs the camera lens or towards the end when Leonardo looks into the audience’s eyes intensely and almost taking us aback for a while. Such innovations work in favour of the movie as it gives a feeling of closeness to the fate of Glass and being there side by side with him during his struggles. This is not a comfortable viewing by any means. If you are taking popcorn along inside the theatre, be prepared to lose a few while cringing and hopping a bit during the horrifying and highly detailed scenes. But the detailing is part of what makes the movie a must watch. And salute to Iñárritu and Leonardo for bringing the heroic journey of Glass to the big screen.
Possible Oscar Mentions—
Best Actor—Well, unless you have been living under a rock, you would have surely heard of the rising calls for an Oscar for the excellent Leonardo DiCaprio. He has been nominated five times for best actor but never landed the coveted prize. This year again he should expect a nomination at the very least. Such was his commitment that he personally requested the director to provide him with a raw Bison liver to make the scene totally realistic. Such commitment should be saluted and honoured somehow, Oscar award or not.
Best Cinematography—Emmanuel Lubezki’s work always carries his signature camera work which enhances the realism almost to the level of 3D. When the arrows pierced the air and the human flesh, the audience almost ducks for safety. We are sure that such imagination will be rewarded with a nomination at the very list.
Best Director— Alejandro González Iñárritu won the award last year and he is looking good this year also. His movies have a underdog premise which has always been a favourite with the Academy. Only thing which may go against him is the blood and gore (ask Quentin Tarantino). Filming in sub zero temperature in the cold mountains of Canada and Argentina during the unforgiving winters takes dedication and the result shows. Such pure enthusiasm for an art should be commended.
gobblpoint— No one would have believed the script had it not been a true story because the odds are so miniscule. A true story brought to life by a dedicated and masterful film maker and an equally committed leading cast. Please don’t miss it.