The much-anticipated adaptation of Micheal Punke’s survival story of the same name, The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as weathered frontiersman Hugh Glass. Glass’s legendary struggle begins after a vicious bear attack results in him being abandoned by his team and forced to survive the brutal wilderness alone. He also embarks on a quest for revenge after the murder of his half-Pawnee son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), by the treacherous and self-seeking fur trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Fitzgerald had been tasked by the captain of the expedition (Domhnall Gleeson) to give Glass a proper burial when he inevitably succumbed to his injuries, but Fitzgerald leaves Glass to die instead. Bearing witness to some of Fitzgerald’s crimes is Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), a conflicted by ultimately good-hearted youth who is bullied into silence by the menacing Fitzgerald. Because of Fitzgerald and Bridger’s actions, Glass must eke his way across miles and miles of frozen land with little to defend himself against the dangerous elements and ranging groups of Arikara warriors.
With such an exciting collaboration of talents—from heavyweight thespians DiCaprio and Hardy in the lead roles (the pair are reunited since working together on dream heist film Inception) to Birdman director Alejandro G. Iñárritu at the helm (with two-time Oscar-winner Emmanuel Lubezki in charge of breathtaking cinematography to boot!) —The Revenant was poised to become something truly impressive. And it does hit all the right plot points for that sort of epic movie, smartly altering Punke’s novel by adding more drive to Glass’s mission of revenge via the murder of his son (Hawk and his Pawnee mother do not exist in the book), and making it abundantly clear which character is an archetypal good or bad guy. There are also some meticulously choreographed, unbelievably bloody, long-take fight sequences shot in natural light that are real feats of filmmaking. And let’s not forget that CGI bear. Yet somehow, The Revenant adds up to less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it was the pacing and editing, or Glass’s hallucinatory dream sequences (full of unexplained spiritual imagery), or even the built up hype around the movie (plagued by a long and arduous shoot amplified by online buzz about DiCaprio’s perceived ambition to win an Oscar, and the internet’s own desire to see him achieve that goal) that lessened the film. And I hate to complain about mumbling but half the dialogue was lost in the sound of rushing winds or hazed out by frosted beards. Nevertheless, DiCaprio does do a magnificent job displaying the physical and emotional agony of Glass while barely speaking (he can’t really, what with his throat having been torn apart by the bear) as he faces off against man and nature.
In the final frames of the movie, Glass looks directly into the camera and arrests the audience with his gaze, giving an inscrutable, searching look and leaving viewers unsettled by the final message of the film. The last lines uttered by Fitzgerald haunt us, reminding Glass that revenge won’t bring his son back. And perhaps that is another reason why The Revenant fails to triumph, as it undermines everything that led up to the ending, taking away all meaning and purpose for Glass and the viewer.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 bear claw necklaces