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Movie review 'The Revenant': A seering survival drama

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | SUDARSHAN RAMANI
Published Feb 27, 2016, 1:17 am IST
Updated Feb 27, 2016, 7:02 am IST
The Revenant is a terrific big-screen experience.
A still from The Revenant
 A still from The Revenant
Rating:

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Grace Dove, Duane Howard
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

 

 

A group of hunter-trappers are attacked by the Ree native tribes, whose chief (Duane Howard) is seeking to rescue his daughter. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) escape overland, leaving behind the valuable animal pelt. Glass is attacked by a bear and left in the care of Fitzgerald who hates him. Eventually, he’s betrayed and left for dead. A wounded and maimed Glass somehow finds the will to survive in the harsh mountainous cold and embarks on a long quest for vengeance.

 

The Revenant is a film that has carried a great deal of rumours of the harsh conditions of its production — much of the film is shot on location with natural light (excellent work by Emmanuel Lubezki) — with Leonardo DiCaprio and the cast working in harsh conditions. Watching the film, one can see the physicality and visceral sense of nature in the film.

The film is a fictionalised account of the real-life adventures of Glass. It adds a half-native son of Glass into the mix which, I suppose, adds greater texture to the settler-native relations that inform the background of the film. But on the whole, this is closer to Apocalypto rather than The New World. It’s about the nuts and bolts of survival. It’s all about patchwork shelter, narrow caves and makeshift bandages. One image has Glass cauterising his wound by setting fire to his neck. The amount of pain, endurance and torment is unbelievable.

 

The approach taken by the film towards the story seems flawed in a couple of instances, chiefly cutting away from DiCaprio to a separate strand concerning other characters. The story also has speeches on the persecution of Native Americans that seem a little preachy and director Alejandro González Iñárritu makes the mistake that any filmmaker focusing on fixed location narratives makes, i.e., to burden events with vignettes — in this case a community of French trappers. This time last year, Angelina Jolie’s film, Unbroken, told another true story of a man surviving impossible ordeals but it refused to pare down its relentless focus on the character.

 

The Revenant is mainly a spectacle of sound, image and vast unforgiving landscapes. This allows the film to paper over the weaknesses of the story and direction. The visceral sequences: Glass hiding underneath an animal skin to protect himself from winter; his halting and hesitant interactions with other strangers on the frontier are powerful images.

The unforgettable bear attack scene is an incredible sequence; performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Domhnall Gleeson and, especially, Duane Howard (as the moving Ree Chief, who gets an amazing close-up in a powerful early scene) are equally riveting. This is one of DiCaprio’s most intense roles.

 

The Revenant is a terrific big-screen experience. It is a film about the environment and the kind of impact it can have on individuals, with characters resorting to violence, slaughter and betrayal under its influence. There are repeated images of various characters being scalped, practiced by both white men and natives, and the violence on offer, while never gratuitous, is still quite hard to take in many scenes.

It is to the film’s credit that it has a sense of ambiguity about whether there is anything truly separating the film’s heroes, villains and innocents. Perhaps the only truly noble character in the film is the bear that attacked Glass to protect her cubs.

 

The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society

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