In 1823, fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is leading a group of fur trappers through unexplored territory, which would later become South Dakota. They are being chased by members of the Arikara tribe, and losing men each day. Glass advises the trappers to abandon the boat they are sailing across the Missouri River, and travel by land. Glass soon regrets his own advice, when he is seriously mauled by a bear. Realizing they can’t take Glass along, Captain Henry (Domhall Gleeson) tries to shoot Glass to put him out of his misery, but can’t bring himself to do it. Then he offers a reward to two people who stay behind to take care of Glass. Young trapper Jim Bridger, (Will Poulter) Glass’ half Pawnee son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) agree to stay behind, but Fitzgerald has no intention of caring for Glass, and he reports to Bridger that Hawk is missing. Meanwhile the Akikara Chief, Elk Dog (Duane Howard) is looking for the men who kidnapped his daughter. Does Glass survive? Where is Hawk? Does Elk Dog find his daughter?
This is a double revenge fantasy, and though it has a couple of false endings, and it requires the viewer to suspend his or her tethers to reality more than once, it is also a story about the importance of family, and that is what holds the viewer riveted for two and a half hours. The Native Americans are written realistically, they are all acting according to what they believe their best interests are. Some fought the white man, others tried to trade with the white man. Similarly, despite the bloody and oftentimes violent scenes, the ending is surprisingly nuanced, and welcome.
The acting is superb. Did Leonardo DiCaprio deserve the Best Actor Oscar? Honestly, I didn’t think he did. Unless moaning and groaning counts as good acting, he was mute for large portions of this movie, and screaming through clenched teeth does not equate to a good enough performance for an Oscar. This is what I would call a make-up Oscar, Academy voters are trying to make up for all those snubs or losses by giving him this one. Acting should not be judged the same as Little League, an actor shouldn’t get a prize for just participating. When he did speak, he did a good job of conveying anger and pain, there just wasn’t enough in the role for an Oscar win. He’s had better performances in Django Unchained and Wolf of Wall Street, and even Titanic, so I can see no other reason for this win.
Frankly, Tom Hardy gave a much better performance as the ruthless, money hungry John Fitzgerald. Without Hardy’s performance, DiCaprio would have nothing to play against. Before you think I’m a Tom Hardy fanboy, he was a non-entity in Mad Max Fury Road, but he was Oscar worthy in either this movie or Legend. He is a superb actor. Will Poulter also gave an excellent performance as the newer member of the trapping team, Bridger. He was intimidated by Fitzgerald, and guilt ridden by the decisions he made, and Poulter conveyed those emotions well. Domhall Gleeeson gave perhaps the best performance of his young career. He showed both strength and sensitivity in this performance. I also liked Forrest Goodluck as Hawk. It was a complex role, and Goodluck played it well. I also liked that the Native American roles were played by Native American actors, that gave the film more authenticity.
The direction by Alejandro Inarritu is spellbinding, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the landscape photography is spellbinding. The CGI bear attack is less convincing, the bear seems somehow faster than a real bear, and that took away from the reality a bit. The pacing was slow at times, but picked up during the climax of the movie. The fight scenes were mostly well staged and realistic. He stayed away from the gimmickry of Birdman, having most of the movie consist of one long scene without editing, for example. The use of editing in Birdman became a distraction in my opinion. These scenes are cut together perfectly in order to tell a cohesive story. He gets tremendous performances from his entire cast, great performances plus stunning visuals, simply stated, he deserved the Oscar for Best Director for The Revenant.
The Revenant: Grin and bear it