Based on a true story, The Revenant is a grim, bloody, yet beautifully shot story of revenge and endurance that ultimately left me cold (no pun intended). It was still worth seeing on the big screen because of the exquisite scenery and cinematography, and I’ve just never seen a frontier story quite like it, portrayed quite so graphically. There was one scene involving a horse that reminded me of a similar scene I’ve read in a book once, which I dismissed at the time as implausible bullshit; turns out that yes it is actually a realistic scenario and you get to see it in all its intestinal glory.
The story is fairly minimalist – Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trapper in 19th century America, survives a horrific attack by an enraged mama bear, and is left for dead by the men entrusted with his care, including John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a first-rate scumbag who inadvertently ends up killing Glass’ half-Native American son. This provides Glass with a thirst for revenge which keeps him pushing through the limits of exhaustion as he drags his shredded body across the stark icy wilderness. The bear attack by the way to me was another proof that while special effects are now good enough to make a grizzly bear look 100% realistic, they still can’t quite make CGI animals move in a 100% believable fashion. This bear was probably the most realistic-looking animal I’ve seen in a film, but its movements were still just too smooth and fluid, so to me the horror of the attack was diminished.
I’m sure I’m going to be in a minority on this, but I didn’t think that DiCaprio’s turn here was all that. He’s one of the few remaining genuine movie stars around and he’s enormously talented, but I just think that his particular talents are best used when playing driven, charismatic characters like his double whammy of The Great Gatsby and The Wolf of Wall Street from couple of years ago. Here he’s required to be suffering and stoic and there’s a lot of Acting happening that could finally bag him an Oscar, but he doesn’t give Glass much in a way of personality and the character remains essentially a blank. I didn’t feel like the movie gave me any reasons to care for the guy other than just the plain fact of bad things happening to him, and that he’s somewhat less terrible towards the Native Americans than the rest of the white settlers. When you’re watching a revenge story and don’t particularly give a damn about the main character or his emotional reasons, that’s a problem. I did enjoy the supporting cast; Tom Hardy is such a charismatic evil bastard here that even though I’ve missed a third of his dialogue because of his thick accent I didn’t mind because he’s so much fun to watch. And Domhnall Gleeson (I really need to find out how to pronounce his first name) is very sympathetic as Captain Andrew Henry, a city boy who’s heading the trapping expedition, and proves that his bit of hammy acting in recent Star Wars was surely a hiccup in what’s so far a pretty solid resume.
Despite the lack of emotional investment, the movie was still an immersive, visceral experience. You can practically feel the snow crunch under your feet and the arrows whoosh by your face (and into the necks of trappers), and the film is full of awe-inspiring imagery that showcases nature at its most savage and beautiful. And if Leo ends up winning that Oscar, oh well he’s given enough great performances in the past, so I can’t hate on that really.