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The Revenant




The Revenant
Film reviews by Amy Diaz

01/14/16
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio gets beaten up by a bear in The Revenant, a really long movie about walking through a snowy landscape.
Bring a sweater and maybe skip the iced soda — this movie makes you cold.
Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) are working as guides for a company of trappers in the American Midwest some decades pre-Civil War. The company is attacked by a group of Native Americans from the Arikara tribe who are looking for the chief’s daughter who was abducted by two unknown white men. Hugh and his son are able to get a few men to safety, including company captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), the young buddy of Hawk’s Bridger (Will Poulter) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a man with complaints. Fitzgerald’s many constant complaints include:
• that the Glasses couldn’t prevent or predict the attack. 
• that the Glasses are untrustworthy because Hawk is half Pawnee. 
• that they had to leave behind (hidden, for later reclamation) the bales of furs the men gathered.
• that they have to carry a few of the bales and that they are heavy.
• that Henry chose to walk over the mountains to the military fort, even though everybody points out that if they had taken the boat they would surely be killed by the Arikara. 
• and finally, Fitzgerald is annoyed about how much money he’s not likely to make from this endeavor now that it’s gone wrong.
An aside: In these movies, it is always this guy, the complainy guy, who is either evil or incompetent or both. After the thousandth complaint, you wonder why any trust is given to the guy who obviously has some nefarious intent.
As the men climb a mountain range to make it to the military fort, still under threat of being found by the Arikara, Glass has a chance encounter with a large bear. He’s left barely alive, with significant lacerations to his neck, chest and back. Though the few remaining men barely have the strength to drag themselves and a few bales of furs over the mountain, they make a stretcher and carry Glass as well. Eventually, they decide they can go no farther with Glass, so Hawk, Bridger and Fitzgerald stay behind to care for Glass until he dies and give him a proper burial. All go along with this for a bit but then Fitzgerald gets itchy to be done with Glass duty and catch up with the remaining rest of the company. He attempts to hurry Glass to his eternal rest but Hawk catches him. Fitzgerald kills Hawk in front of the immobile, not-able-to-talk Glass. When Bridger, who has been fishing in the river, returns, Fitzgerald suggests that Hawk has wandered off. Later, Fitzgerald hurries Bridger away from the dying but still not dead Glass, claiming that the Arikara are just minutes away. Bridger reluctantly leaves, giving Glass a canteen filled with water.
Thus begins the endless middle section of the movie, which features multiple groups slowly walking — occasionally riding horses — across a snowy, icy landscape. There are the company remnants, Bridger and Fitzgerald, the Arikara still seeking the chief’s daughter and an injured but revenge-hungry Glass. Occasionally, we bump into others: a Pawnee man who has lost his family to a recent skirmish with the Sioux, a group of French trappers who seem to be allied with the Arikara but are eventually shown to be equal-opportunity scavengers. 
There’s a lot to like in this section of the movie. The wilderness where the story takes place (Wikipedia says it was filmed primarily in Canada, meant to stand in for an area that in the real-life story on which this was all based is roughly South Dakota) is beautiful in a way that is both striking and terrifying — endless plains and giant mountains being both lovely and a kind of hell when it is sleet-snowing and a person’s only protection is a bear skin. Watching Glass crawl and hobble and eventually hike through all this unforgiving land with horrible injuries, relying on survival knowledge and very rare help/stealable provisions from others, is kind of fascinating. Like, half of it is fascinating. The other half is repetitive. And then we get some dream sequence-y stuff about Glass’s Pawnee wife and Hawk’s childhood that is a little too self-consciously artsy and capital “I” Important to have the impact I think it’s meant to have. The Revenant clocks in at two hours and 36 minutes and, as I complained with The Hateful Eight, longer does not equal better. Slowing a well-paced movie way down to let you look at something or consider something can really give impact to the thing you’re getting a moment to focus on. Snail-pacing an entire movie does not achieve the same thing. In this case, I felt impatient with the umpteenth shot of Henry and his company looking around on a ridge or Fitzgerald urging Bridger to go forward. Because the movie dragged its feet like a preschooler refusing to put on a jacket, I felt increasing frustration with the story’s slowpokery, and likely missed little moments.  
Putting the lovely cinematography and frustrating pacing aside, the rest of The Revenant is, like, fine. Fine, OK, not-bad I guess. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance was a lot about the make-up and the wheezing and limping from the “bear” injuries, but on balance it was more watchable than not. 
Speaking of the bear, the bear mauling scene only once, maybe twice, made me think of an animatronic bear at a children’s arcade, which is not bad for an animal scene. Whatever the bear was — CGI, stunt bear, some combination of that — it was probably as well done as it could have been. 
Tom Hardy’s whole deal was a little more mannered and a little less natural (than both the bear and DiCaprio). I feel like he could have taken down the “mountain man villain” thing a few notches and made his Fitzgerald a little more nuanced. Also, as mentioned previously, his sullen-teenager-on-a-car-trip list of complaints and the delivery of same was the equivalent of giving him an “I’m the guy you’re supposed to hate” sign to wear around his neck.
I disagree with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which awarded this movie “Best Motion Picture — Drama” last Sunday over the far superior Spotlight. The Revanant is overly-long and self-important and ultimately not compelling enough for me to want to put it at the top of even my truncated list of best movies. I will give it that it offers an interesting slice of life on the American frontier, even if that slice should have been a good half hour thinner. B-
Rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity. Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu with a screenplay by Mark L. Smith & Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Michael Punke), The Revenant is two hours and 36 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.
 





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