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Film Review – The Revenant

3 min read

Revenant, defined, means “a person who has returned from the dead”. Except in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s American wilderness adventure story The Revenant, fur trapper Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) was never quite dead to begin with. Inspired by an already exaggerated tale of true events, The Revenant is an epic story of the now legendary Glass’s struggle to survive after he is brutally mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. Set in the 1820’s uncharted American wilderness, Glass is forced to endure a vicious winter after he was betrayed by his good friend John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and sets out to not only survive, but find redemption against the unimaginable loss he has endured at the hands of Fitzgerald.

Based on the 2002 novel, The Revenant has been a film in the making for almost 15 years with various actors attached to the lead role including Samuel L Jackson and Christian Bale. Finally, with the film set to go forward under Iñárritu and with DiCaprio confirmed to star, production began (after several delays) in October 2014 and wrapped up almost a year later in August 2015. Even after only a limited release, the film has garnered widespread attention including Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, and Best Actor for DiCaprio. Though his role is almost entirely physical, DiCaprio is fantastic and worthy of the accolades for his performance in what must have been a very difficult film to make given the harsh conditions. Acting performances in the film are fantastic all around, and besides DiCaprio, Tom Hardy was noteworthy as Fitzgerald. Though an Englishman, Hardy does a remarkably convincing Appalachian accent.

The Revenant insert

A very ambitious film for Iñárritu, whose experience is predominantly as a producer/director of dramatic human stories including last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner Birdman, The Revenant was shot in some very remote locations and under extreme conditions. Unfortunately it seems like Iñárritu may have been a little over his head and his inexperience directing in these types of conditions showed. Though there are some visually stunning scenes given the landscape, the chronology is confusing. Probably due to the production problems, delays, and long shooting schedule, it is difficult to determine from scene to scene, and over the course of the film, exactly what the chronology is. As Glass is making his way through the wilderness, the weather changes, as well as the rate at which Glass’s injuries are healing makes it very difficult to tell exactly how much time has passed. At the rate his near-fatal injuries appear to be healing, it would seem as if the film is taking place over the course of many months. However, the weather patterns don’t seem to follow any path of the seasons whatsoever and I was left wondering whether it was a day, or a month, that was passing from scene to scene. Another major issue I had was with the scene settings. The Revenant is supposed to be set in some of the most remote and unspoiled wilderness in early 19th century North America, and many of the scenes should have shown characters in settings that were perfectly pristine as they should have been the only humans to recently (if not ever) have travelled across them. But, in scene after scene, the wilderness settings looked as if the entire Roman Army had just recently passed through and trampled the place to death. This was especially disappointing in the final showdown scenes between Glass and Fitzgerald, and Iñárritu throws away one of his biggest opportunities- giving the stunning landscapes and settings a starring role in the film.  Another gripe I have is with the bear mauling scene…it looked very CGI and was obvious DiCaprio was being tossed about by a mechanical device.

Taking all that aside, The Revenant is an epic adventure film worth seeing and I did enjoy it.  Though there is not much dialogue, it is a tense and thrilling ride, with a very talented cast (DiCaprio and Hardy are at the top of their games). It is a very good film that, in the hands of a more skilled directory, probably could have been a great one.