-- ------------- -------------- ------------------- -------------------

‘Revenant’ emotionally stunted epic – DiCaprio plays an avenging 19th century frontiersman

This post has been read 6212 times!

This photo provided by Warner Bros Pictures shows Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase in a scene from the film, ‘In the Heart of the Sea’. The movie opens in US theaters on Dec 11. (AP)
This photo provided by Warner Bros Pictures shows Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase in a scene from the film, ‘In the Heart of the Sea’. The movie opens in US theaters on Dec 11. (AP)

Few prestige directors have so fully committed to the notion of cinema as an endurance test as Alejandro G. Inarritu, and he pushes himself, the audience and an aggrieved 19th-century frontiersman well beyond their usual limits in“The Revenant.” Bleak as hell but considerably more beautiful, this nightmarish plunge into a frigid, forbidding American outback is a movie of pitiless violence, grueling intensity and continually breathtaking imagery, a feat of high-wire filmmaking to surpass even Inarritu and d.p. Emmanuel Lubezkis work on last years Oscar-winning“Birdman.” Yet in attempting to merge a Western revenge thriller, a meditative epic in the Terrence Malick mold, and a lost-in-the-wilderness production of near-Herzogian insanity,“The Revenant” increasingly succumbs to the air of grim overdetermination that has marred much of Inarritus past work: Its an imposing vision, to be sure, but also an inflated and emotionally stunted one, despite an anchoring performance of ferocious 200 percent commitment from Leonardo DiCaprio.

Hard to recognize though he may be under so much blood, grime and unwashed mountain-man mane, DiCaprio will boost the commercial prospects of Foxs not-so-merry Christmas Day release, which will lean heavily on its award-friendly pedigree to overcome audience resistance to its considerable length and extreme carnage. While the many, many acts of human and animal savagery are doled out judiciously over the 156-minute running time, theyre attenuated to a brutal, can-you-top-this degree, captured in the long, unbroken takes that have become Inarritu and Lubezki’s visual signature (though minus the one-shot digital gimmickry of “Birdman”). The result is a film of robust, overwhelming physicality, filled with striking passages of pure cinema, yet ultimately in thrall to a crude, self-admiring sensibility that keeps catharsis at bay.


The film was adapted by Inarritu and Mark L. Smith from Michael Punkes 2002 fact-based novel, which is set in 1823-24 in the territories that now make up the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. While the film never specifies exactly where and when it’s taking place (shooting took place in Canada and Argentina), it faithfully centers around a fictionalized version of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a real-life man of the West who works for the Rocky Mountain Fur Co, skillfully guiding beaver trappers deep into hostile terrain. Theirs is a life of hard work, scarce rations and frequent peril, as we witness firsthand when the men are attacked without warning by Arikara warriors. The film establishes its stylistic approach immediately in this harrowing early sequence, beginning with a single unbroken shot in which tension mounts by the second, only to be relieved by the arrow that comes hurtling out of nowhere to connect with a mans throat.

As the surviving trappers flee with whatever pelts they can salvage, we feel not just ambushed but surrounded by the attackers lurking just off screen, by the dense trees looming in Lubezki’s deep-focus compositions, and perhaps most of all by the astonishing sound design, which transforms the music of babbling brooks, rustling trees, thunderous hoofbeats, falling bodies and anguished screams into a wild symphony of woodland chaos. These sounds will be joined, in due course, by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto’s artfully modulated, never-repetitive score, which begins as a series of low, synth-like rumbles that gather melodic force and power as the film progresses.

In short,“The Revenant” must be appreciated first and foremost as a sensory and aesthetic marvel, a brutal hymn to the beauty and terror of the natural world that exerts a hypnotic pull from the opening frame. Its deficiencies as a human drama and a metaphysical meditation will take a bit longer to emerge. Glass is traveling with his teenage son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a descendant of the Pawnee tribe on his mothers side, and the two regard each other with an understandably fierce protectiveness. The other trappers, led by the principled Capt Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), prove respectful enough of father and son, with the singular exception of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a nasty never-do-well who makes no secret of the fact that his commitment to the party’s mission is purely mercenary.


And so there’s trouble afoot even before Glass ventures out alone and is mauled by a mammoth grizzly bear, in what must surely be the most squirmingly visceral scene of an animal attack on a human committed to the screen, all the more realistic and protracted for being shot in a single take. Glass kills the bear, but not before it all but kills him, leaving horrific wounds in his chest, back and throat, and rendering him unable to speak or walk. The arduous task of carrying the injured party over the rocky and eventually snowy terrain soon threatens the partys safety, and it’s decided that Glass will be left behind with Hawk, Fitzgerald and a young man, Jim Bridger (Will Poulter, excellent), so that he can receive a proper burial when he inevitably dies. (RTRS)

By Justin Chang

Check Also

‘Turning Leo to Glass challenging’ – How ‘Revenant’ hair, make-up team transformed DiCaprio

This post has been read 6213 times!LOS ANGELES, Feb 17, (RTRS): Among the 12 Oscar …