The Revenant (2015)
Based on the title ‘The Revenant’ might sound like it is just another zombie apocalypse flick and considering the overwhelming popularity ambulatory rotting undead it would not be an unreasonable conclusion. Thankfully for all of us who enjoy a bit of variety in our entertainment this movie is a gripping drama abandon the most hostile environment imaginable struggling to survive. Written and directed by filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu this is a story based on the true account of Hugh Glass, a frontiersman and trapper in 1823 was mauled by bears and had to literally crawl over 200 miles to safety. The usual caveats apply that hold for any film with the tag line "based on true events". According to what is written about the actual event the scenes as portrayed in the film a reasonably accurate although reliable documentation of events so far away from civilization back in the early 19th century typically poorly documented. Story such as this will often pass down by word-of-mouth with each new storyteller leading his own flourishes. What matters about a movie such as this is not so much a start the veracity but it is an exciting story that showcases some of the highest caliber acting calmly around today. For a long time Leonardo DiCaprio has been providing one extraordinary performance after another with this is the one that landed him much lauded Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The primary source material screenplay was taken from Michael Punke's novel of the same name and co-authored by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu. His work in this film garnered him his fourth Academy Award. Much of the chagrin of all involved especially the actors Mr. Iñárritu was adamant about using actual locations rather than CGI. While that certainly would have been less expensive all is arduous on cast and crew the matter how well computer graphics may be there is nothing like a practical set. This is especially true for locations requiring the outdoors. In high definition details of the terrain ranging from the texture of the snow to the weathered wear of the clothing could never be fully achieved through CGI. It is this realism that is crucial to the success of the film and is demanded by the quality of Mr. DiCaprio’s performance.
The story takes place in 1823 a group of hunters and trappers with working the territory that would someday be known as the Dakotas. That suffered heavy losses due to attacks by the indigenous Arikara tribe protecting their hunting grounds crucial to their survival. The main attempt to escape downriver by boat the more experienced been among them, trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) was and that would be certain way to be captured and killed by the natives. The only one in agreement with Glass was the leader of the expedition, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). All the men were reluctant follow on land is would mean abandoning the bounties of fur. Among the men who objected most was the perpetually confrontational John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). When the Arikara finally do catch up with the boat all they find a pair of stowaways who are killed.
While scouting ahead Glass is seriously mauled by a bear as he happens upon her cubs. Eventually he is able to kill the bear but not before taking serious injuries to his throat, back, legs, and arms. Captain Andrews dresses the wounds the best he could but Glass not be able to keep up with the group. Fitzgerald convinces the others that it is best that he’s left behind. The captain tries to show him out of mercy but cannot bring himself to do it so Fitzgerald pays one of the less experienced men, Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) to watch Glass until he dies and give him a proper burial. Bridger goes off to together some water Fitzgerald attempts to smother Glass. The stress in ensues and when Glass’ Indian son attempts to intervene Fitzgerald stabs young man to death. Fitzgerald then tosses Class in a shallow grave and leaves after stealing his rifle and knife. Even a member of the audience who was against vengeance will have little qualms but it comes to wanting to see Glass not only survive but eventually get his revenge on the sniveling coward Fitzgerald. To leave a man, even one is gravely wounded as Glass without his firearm or even a knife is tantamount to first-degree murder. The point that is being set up with this exchange is that Glass that only has to extricate himself from the situation just to remain alive but he’s driven by a blood simple rage against Fitzgerald, and deservedly so.
Almost entire second act of the film is a solo performance by Mr. DiCaprio. Although the conditions were carefully monitored and food and shelter actually close by, Mr. DiCaprio was subjected to hardships far beyond what is normally inflicted upon performer. After being snubbed so many times he deserved the award not only for his stellar performance here but for his tenacity during principal photography. Speaking of that process, the director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu utilized his favorite cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, in this movie. This gives them back to back speaks of the Oscars between ‘The Revenant’ in last year’s ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’. All these men had a long history of working together, the director and cinematographer clicks in such a fashion as a synergy that explodes on screen with visually epic results. It is easy to see why they demanded the use of actual locations over computer fabrication. It is one thing for an actor to pretend that being cold and tired in front of a giant green screen for something altogether different when you’re leading man is shivering in the snow. Besides, would be a disservice to the real Hugh Glass to fake the hardships that he endured a tamale contrivance is a computer.
This type of film is at times difficult to watch because it conveys such a degree of realism that you cannot help but to sympathize with what the main character endured. Find yourself at the edge of your seat as Glass vases one deadly aspect of nature after another in a test of his endurance and ingenuity with a simple choice; succeed or die. By the end of the film you are really not care whether or not every event depicted was absolutely true. All that matters is that the spirit that this man embodied that was critical to the expansion of our country out west is very much real.