The Revenant Review
I have to admit upfront that I was somewhat annoyed with this movie before I ever saw it because it was relentlessly marketed for months in theaters. After finally seeing it, I will admit that it is a good movie, but given the number of Academy Award nominations this film received, I can also very clearly call it overrated. Alejandro Iñárritu’s new film The Revenant (which I still like to call Heavy Breathing: The Movie) is a beautiful, well made film that is also massively flawed.
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a tracker and pelt hunter in the American frontier in 1823. He and his half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) are part of a hunting party that is nearly wiped out by a Ree hunting party and have to travel overland to avoid the further attacks. Glass is then attacked and horribly wounded by a grizzly bear and the rest of the remaining hunting party members have to decide whether to keep him with them or put him out of his misery. Glass’s son pleads to keep his father alive and out of respect for Glass’s talents as a tracker, the hunting party’s leader (Domnhall Gleason) decides to leave a small group behind to watch over him while the rest return to the fort for help. The group includes Hawk, a young trapper named Bridger (Will Poulter), and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a surly, racist, aggravating gentleman who needs money and doesn’t give a crap about other people. Once the party leaves, Fitzgerald asks Glass if he just wants him to end it. Glass agrees, but Hawk intervenes before Fitzgerald can kill Glass and Fitzgerald then kills Hawk and hides the body. He then drags Glass’s body into a hole and leaves, telling Bridger that a huge Ree raiding party is approaching and they won’t survive if they take Glass. However, Glass doesn’t die, and drags himself out of the grave and across the frontier wilderness to find Fitzgerald and get revenge for his son.
That synopsis may feel like a spoiler, but all of that was in the film’s trailer and only accounts for the first 45 minutes of this 156 minute film. There is more plot aside from this, but that’s where one of my biggest problems with the film lies. This relatively simple story could have easily been told in a 90 minute movie, but either the director, the writer, or the studio felt that would not have been sufficient to leave an impact on the audience. So, the film is stretched to over two and a half hours using meaningless subplots that add no content or entertainment value. Also, a certain degree of artistic indulgence is allowed when a director and a good cinematographer have good material to work with, but Iñárritu overindulges in The Revenant by stopping the movie to show something pretty for no reason or to do artsy hallucination sequences that are honestly rather silly in hindsight. One of the worst offenders is a scene where DiCaprio looks at a mountain and sees an avalanche start rolling towards him with the music dramatically swelling towards him, and then it cuts away without anything happening. The subplots also are built up significantly with no real payoff, meaning a good hour of the movie is annoyingly pointless.
All of that aside, I do think this is a movie worth seeing at least once. The film is gorgeous to look at, and there are several very effectively intense action scenes in the movie (the several minute bear attack is the highlight). The fact that this story was largely based on true events, in all their gruesome details, convinces me that does work as a movie. Also, all of the performances are good, even from the minor actors. Aside from Leo who REALLY wants his Oscar now, Tom Hardy in particular is effectively awful as a cold, dead-eyed, selfish prick who only acts with his own self-interest in mind. But again, the script undercuts the performances with repetitive and unnecessary scenes. Hardy’s speech about God being a squirrel his Dad ate is painfully forced and pointless Oscar bait, and the fact that a subplot about him and Domhnall Gleason squabbling over money was added to the movie is infuriating because it adds nothing. Furthermore, in case you couldn’t figure out DiCaprio’s motivation, the script has him write, “Fitzgerald killed my son,” on cave walls and rocks several times throughout the movie. I seem to have wrongly assumed that Oscar bait movies were clever enough to not treat their audiences like idiots.
Another major problem with the script is that the bear attack at the beginning set up a tone of gritty realism in the film that the script then seeks to undermine at every possible opportunity. From somehow climbing down a steep cliff to a river despite being unable to stand to bouncing down rapids without drowning and then not dying of hypothermia when he gets out of the river, the movie has him do things that would have killed a man if far better shape than him. Also, considering how often the film addresses the simplicity of guns in the period, the fact that one scene has Leo fire six or seven shots without ever having time to reload is the kind of annoying lack of attention to details that bothers me in a film meant to be realistic and taken seriously.
The Revenant is a well made, well acted, tense, and atmospheric survival movie partially undone by unnecessary additions to the script, pointless artsy scenes, and other attempts to appeal to the Oscars committee that undercut the impact of the movie. I hope Leo gets his Oscar finally, but this movie is somewhat hurt by its attempts to appeal for its Oscars.