"The Revenant" Review

Title: The Revenant 
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu 
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy 
Studio: 20th Century Fox 
Genre(s): Drama/Action 
Rated: R (For strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity)

A man trudges through snow in the wilderness. He has been attacked by a bear, buried alive by men who were supposed to look out for him, and he watched his son murdered right before his eyes. A few hours ago he was ready to give up on life. He knew the burden he was putting on everyone, but his vocal cords are extremely damaged, and he has no way to tell them to leave him behind and save themselves. Then one man offers to kill him. He assures him he will make it as quick and painless as he can. All he needs is a blink for confirmation. Despite the inhumanity of the offer this is actually the best thing that can be done. For the wilderness is dangerous, wild, and shows no mercy. To keep one man alive while many other put themselves in more danger is not something someone with a conscious would do.

So why is the man – Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio – now walking alone through the woods, desperate to survive another night with his decaying body growing weaker by the minute? Because the deal that was supposed to be a blessing turning into a curse, when Hugh's son see's what is happening and thinks his father is being murdered. During the attempt to stop the murder, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) kills the boy in a panic, buries him far away, and tells the other men that the boy wondered off and simply never came back. Later on it will be John who tells his comrades that Indians are coming and that Hugh must be left behind. Everyone quickly buries Hugh (while he's alive) and run off to save their own lives. At one moment Hugh welcomed death as he had no reason to fight to live. Now he fights to live because he craves revenge.

How can he not? While there is certainly some anger to be had in the situation, the sad truth of the matter is Hugh doesn't simply want justice; he wants a reason to live. In a time when there is endless possibility for growth and man idolized fortunes, Hugh seems disinterested in what he can gain from the world. He has a son and is more interested in what happens to him. When he is truly of no use, this crushes his spirit and that is why he welcomes death when the time comes. When his son dies is when he seems to gain a glow in his eye. Tragic as it may have been, now there is reason to live, and there is a purpose that must be fulfilled. On the other side of the coin is supposed villain of “The Revenant,” John, who is not quite the villain people may assume him to be.

No, I wouldn't exactly call him a good person and many of his desires are selfish, but I want to point out the time period this takes place. This is a story (which was based on actual events I'm told) where America was this prosperous land. Men had just landed and were ready to make their place in it. Yet the country was new, and much more savage than it is today. John may have selfish desires and may be the one who pushes hardest to leave a dying man for dead…but you know what, he isn't exactly wrong in his claims. He is absolutely correct when he points out that carrying Hugh around on a stretcher is doing nothing more than holding up the party. He is right in pointing out that being mauled by a bear is almost certain death. Finally, he is right when he points out that Indians and other animals (maybe even another bear) can attack them at any point, and they can't be distracted if those come to pass.

These are all absolutely correct, and in a logical world the best course of action is to leave Hugh behind and focus on saving the rest of the men who have a fighting chance to live. I don't believe for one second he would have killed Hugh's son had he not gotten in the way. He didn't hesitate to kill the boy when he DID get in the way, but then that's human nature, and in the woods only animal instincts keep you alive. There is likely to be lots of praise for DiCaprio who does a great job in this (mostly) silent performance, but I believe the real star in all of this is Tom Hardy, who gives real complexity to a man we are called upon to hate.

In a strange way, I had a lot more respect for John than I did for Hugh (and I was rooting for the latter to come out on top). Hugh is the star of this movie and there is good reason for that. This is a man who wants to survive and uses revenge as his motivation to attempt to. DiCaprio goes through lots of abuse as he falls off mountains, over waterfalls, and (most famously) fights a bear that tears off whole chunks of his body and almost kills him in five minutes. Despite the bear obviously being a special effect, the long shot where there is no editing and lots of carnage makes the scene feel real, and it is a masterful piece of directing by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who has made another instant masterpiece in his brief time on the movie circuit.

Granted, it must be noted he is tackling a theme that he knows all too well: Survival. In “Babel” you had people in situations that wanted to survive them, but might be prevented of speaking the very words that can save lives due to language barriers. In “Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” he followed an actor who was being pushed out of his very livelihood thanks to the superhero movie genre, and was self-financing a Broadway play in a last ditch attempt to stay relevant. In the case of “The Revenant” we are following a man who needs a reason to live and finds it after a horrible incident shakes his world. It is at once exciting and tragic at the same time. It's exciting for the audience who watches this film of a man who is practically a ghost who comes back from the grave to hunt people, yet it's tragic because of the events that set all this into motion. Though not his best film, “The Revenant” is certainly Iñárritu's most accomplished film as a masterful storyteller.

Parents, there is VERY strong violence, some lanuage, a sexual assault, and some brief male nudity. Recommended for ages 17 and up.