The Revenant: brutal and simple

Film

Fur trappers. Who’d want to be one eh? Having just seen The Revenant I’d say the average life expectancy of those guys couldn’t have been past about 30. And if you encounter tribes of Indians on a regular basis then more like 20.

The film’s shoot has already become the stuff of modern Hollywood legend. Forget Christian Bale losing weight for roles, he wasn’t out in the elements. DiCaprio, as the stories go, properly suffered. And the Academy loves an actor that gets put through the wringer for a role. So much so he seems a dead cert to take the Best Lead Actor Oscar (for which he’s long overdue).

But, ramblings aside, let’s talk about the actual film, inasmuch as we can do avoiding spoilers. Not that there’s much to spoil as it’s a pretty simple tale. We start with Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) hunting in the wilderness somewhere then cut back to camp where the rest of the trappers get viciously set upon by Native American Indians. It’s an astonishing set piece and worth your price of entry alone; as the camera bobs and weaves and ducks and dives, switching from character to character as director Alejandro G. Inarritu introduces us to the key players with the quiet brilliance of a master conductor.

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After they escape they ditch their boat thinking they’ll stand a better chance at survival on foot. Then Glass gets savagely mauled by a bear in yet another overwhelmingly visceral sequence. Somehow, despite the bear being CGI, you feel the weight and primal threat of its presence as it attacks. It’ll have you squirming in your seat with your heart racing.

A little while after that Glass’s men leave him for dead (as he’s practically a corpse) and what follows is a fairly simple survival tale. One of Glass’s fellow trappers, Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald, is the main antagonist of the movie, and although he tries to get them to abandon Glass at every opportunity, he’s also just trying his best to survive.

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Everyone in this movie, it seems, is just trying to survive. And little wonder, given the landscape. The cast seems to have spent so much time in either snow or freezing water or both, you wonder how they didn’t call mutiny on their director. That said, despite the harsh environment, it’s beautiful to look at, and DP Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezski just goes from strength to strength as possibly the best in the business right now.

Funnily enough, with most survival movies you’ll sit there happily munching away on your popcorn. With this one I felt guilty just looking at my snacks, let alone opening them. And there’s the trick. We suffer (to a degree) as Glass suffers. The cold environment seems to seep off the screen. Clever filmmakers.

So what I’m saying is, don’t expect to go into this thinking it’s a popcorn movie of any sort. It’s tough and demands your attention. There’s minimal dialogue and a lot of DiCaprio gurning and suffering. But it’s an experience. One that’ll leave you feeling drained and moved afterwards.

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