In the 1820s much of north west was harsh country, fought over by various colonial and native american factions. There was money to be made though - trapping animals for their skins - and military outposts to guard the frontiers and protect trade. One trapper, Hugh Glass, became incredibly famous for surviving a real life bear attack and somehow managing to get back to camp despite being abandoned by his colleagues. That story in turn become a novel by Michael Punke, and now a film written by Mark L Smith and directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (BIRDMAN).
The resulting film is epic. It is meticulously grounded in authentic reality - from Emmanuel Lubezki's natural light photography to the incredibly violent, raw depictions of human and anima violence. And yet the story itself is absurd, taking the real story of Glass and making it bigger, crazier, larger at every turn. Whether you enjoy this film therefore depends on how far you can allow the former to trump the latter.
To speak of the film's strengths is to start and end with Inarritu's visual direction and the central performances. In BIRDMAN Inarritu created a technique of circling his actors with a fluid and expressive camera, and for creating shots that felt never-ending. He uses that technique here to bring us up close to a key character, pans around to show us what they are seeing, and then pans back by which team we see them already reacting, moving away or into action. It creates an amazing feeling of being inside the action and reaction of this organically unfolding story. Another thing is that Inarritu is fearless when it comes to showing us violence - an arrow through the head - a bear ripping up a man's back - a man sealing up a gash in his throat with dynamite - to name but a few.
When it comes to the performances, this is a lead role that asked Leonardo di Caprio to experience and portray hardship, as he keeps telling us in his Oscar campaign. It's a very good, gritty, nuanced performance. But the guys who really steal it for me are Tom Hardy as the cynical but interesting trapper that leaves Glass behind and Will Poulter as the young man he co-erces to help him. What's amazing about Hardy's performance is that here's a guy who does things we hate. But he's also a man who survived being near-scalped. So in a sense he's a commentary on how war brutalises us all, as is the entire movie. And as for Will Poulter, his career is quite impressive. He's done broad comedy in WE'RE THE MILLERS and pure drama in this and WILD BILL. An actor to look out for. So from my perspective, the direction, cinematography and performance by Hardy deserve Oscars. I suspect it's Dicaprio who will get one.
Turning now to the annoying. I get that Inarritu is probably one of the few directors to actually treat his native American characters with anything like respect and to give them fully developed motives but did Glass really need a son and lots of Terence Mallick-style quasi-spiritual shots of wheat fields and floating wives and whatnot. It's just derivative nonsense designed to make Glass the good guy because not only does he not share the colonial views of the bad guy he can visibly display this in protecting his son. It's all so unnecessary. The Glass story is great enough without making him some kind of anachronistic earnest liberal.
THE REVENANT has a running time of 156 minute running time and is rated R. The movie went on release in the USA on December 25th 2015 ad went on global release throughout January.