The first time I even heard about THE REVENANT and the people involved, I knew I was going to see it, and I knew it was going to be a high quality flick. Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t pick roles in average films these days. Coming off of last year’s BIRDMAN, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu was on my must-see list, so that was all the more reason to be interested in it. With a supporting role spot for Tom Hardy, one of my favorite actors and arguably one of Hollywood’s best, there was no way I was going to skip this movie.
And they all completely delivered.
THE REVENANT isn’t an easy movie to sit through. Its pace is on the slow side, which doesn’t mix extremely well with its running time that exceeds 150 minutes. Yet, with the tale they weave together and the great performances, the burden is significantly lessened.
Set in the early 1800s, DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a scout who is guiding a group of fur trappers as they work their way through a territory now known as the Dakotas. He and his son Hawk, whose mother was Native American, seek to get the group back to the fort while minimizing losses due to the attacks of a local tribe. The Arikara are seeking the return of the Chief’s daughter, Powaqa, who was abducted by white Americans. When Glass is mauled near death by a Grizzly bear, the group becomes burdened with carrying him through rough terrain. John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy, convinces the group to move along to the fort while a smaller group takes a longer, less steep route making it easier to transport Glass. When Fitzgerald attempts to suffocate Glass, he is stopped by Hawk, whom he then murders in front of his conscious-yet-immobile father. Fitzgerald and the other member of their party leave Glass for dead, haphazardly burying him for dead. Horrified by what happened to his son, Glass works to traverse the landscape, following Fitzgerald as best he can while trying to survive the harsh wintry conditions alone, seeking his revenge.
It’s hard to imagine a more taxing role than the one DiCaprio had in THE REVENANT. The scene where he was attacked by the bear and the physical limitations he dealt with thereafter were probably enough on their own to warrant an Academy Award nomination. But when you add in the harsh conditions he dealt with and the range of emotions he showed throughout, it’s not hard to understand how he won the award.
Having seen both films, it’s a bit hard to understand how Mark Rylance won the Best Supporting Actor award for BRIDGE OF SPIES ahead of Tom Hardy’s performance here. Fitzgerald’s bigotry, conniving manner, selfishness and manipulation mixed with the history of how he came to be that way made for a complex character which Hardy performed excellently. His mannerisms, especially those related to his hair and scalp, were a great way to add to the character and allow you to help understand his mindset. A beautiful job from an actor who continues to impress me with each role.
THE REVENANT was a worthy follow-up to BIRDMAN for Iñárritu, and further elevates him on my list of directors whose movies I’m willing to see without having heard any details or reviews ahead of time. He found ways to portray both the extremely harsh and beautiful aspects of the environment in ways that add to the understanding of just how difficult the task was for the protagonist. His use of animals in various aspects of the film isn’t something that will likely hit home during an initial viewing, but in the aftermath, it’s incredible to look back and see how he utilized horses, bears, buffalo, wolves and fish serve as a great reminder of what all is involved in such a treacherous journey.
Without a shadow of a doubt, THE REVENANT is one of the best films of 2015. It’s far better than SPOTLIGHT (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture) in numerous ways to include the acting, directing and presentation. When putting together a list of films from this decade which all movie fans need to see, THE REVENANT must be on that list.
My rating: 90 out of 100