“The Revenant” is a brutal film to watch, and can make one feel a bit unclean after viewing it. It’s the kind of film you’re glad you saw, and are even more glad you’ll never have to see it again. The film stars Leonard DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, an expert tracker and fur trapper, who assists a group of trappers led by Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), and is mauled by a bear after fleeing from a tribe of Arikara who ambushes them. The group is less than thrilled to be with Glass, as he has a half-native son, and is seen as some sort of a traitor for that. Glass is very close to his son, Hawk, and in the beginning shots, we’re privy to knowing that something bad happened to Glass’s wife (or Hawk’s mother). Hawk has scars on his face, implying burning, and is only close to his father. The man who is most affected negatively by Hawk’s presence is John Fitzgerald (played by an unrecognizable Tom Hardy), who doesn’t seem to really like anybody including himself.
After the Arikara attack the group, they flee on a boat and find refuge on a bank, in which Glass recommends they go back to their fort, Fort Kiowa. Many of the men are not high on this idea, including Fitzgerald, but they go through with it anyway. Then, Glass is attacked when he accidentally runs into a grizzly with her cubs. He survives, barely, but most of the men think he won’t make it. Henry enlists two men to stay with Glass while the rest track back to the fort–he promises a handsome payment for staying with Glass. Desperate for money, Fitzgerald agrees to stay along with a young trapper named Bridger (Will Poulter). Bridger thinks they will actually nurse Glass back to health, or is hopeful of it; Fitzgerald cannot wait for Glass to die.
We learn very quickly that Fitzgerald will be the villain in this film, and from the time that Glass is laying in his makeshift death bed, we can pretty much dictate where the story is going from there. This is easily going to be a story about revenge. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu (“Birdman”, “Babel”) throws some symbolism and tries to deepen the theme about revenge, but ultimately this is a pretty simple-minded story. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is not engaging. The performances by DiCaprio and Hardy are very strong, and we really feel for Glass as he suffers through unimaginable turmoil (the least of which sometimes are the bear injuries). The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezky (who also worked on “Birdman”) is outstanding, including his penchant for continual shots, not cutting away (the entire film of “Birdman” was like this). Sometimes the camera will spin around, giving us a panoramic feel, and it’s almost like we’re there in the mountains with these men. It adds to the realism of the film itself, which is what makes it so brutal to watch. There are very few light moments, but we welcome them with open arms when they happen–including a nice scene with a Pawnee native assisting Glass through treacherous weather.
But the main driving force is the story between Glass and Fitzgerald. The film tries to push a subplot involving an Arikara chief in search of his daughter. The payoff is decent, but the addition of this story adds to a seemingly unnecessary run time that makes the film a bit bloated at over 2 and a half hours. Still, overall there are not too many dull moments and the story keeps moving at a good pace. The climax is strong, and the resolution is satisfying.
The film is hard to watch, and the purpose is to show what man is capable of to survive. Once Glass has resolved what he set out to do, we are left with little ambiguity on what happens to him next. The idea of revenge is such that it is not “in the hands of man, but of the Creator.” That’s a fine message, but it leaves a heavy handed feeling clenched between the muck and mauled flesh and bone of an otherwise thin plot. The strength of the characters makes up for the somewhat weakness of the story, and there are enough powerful scenes that will make this a worthwhile viewing. But one really is enough.