Review - The Revenant

The Revenant (2015), R, 156 minutes - There was a time when I couldn't care less about a new Leonardo DiCaprio film being released.  That all changed when I saw 2002's Catch Me If You Can.  In all honesty, I was only willing to tag along with my then roommate to that film because of Tom Hanks' involvement.  What I learned with that film was that there was a lot more to DiCaprio than the teen heart throb reputation that I had pigeon-holed him under previously.  Since then he has shown great diversity in his roles and has become a personal favorite, an actor whose new projects I make a point of checking out as soon as possible.  The Revenant is the result of his collaboration with Tom Hardy and reigning Academy Award winner Alejandro González Iñárritu (Best Achievement in Directing/Best Writing, Original Screenplay) to bring this story - based on events described in Michael Punke's historical novel 'The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge' from 2002 - to life.

Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) was an expert trapper/tracker who was part of a fur trading expedition in 1823 in the vast lands of the Louisiana Purchase.  His hunting party (consisting of some military men and some trappers-for-hire) experiences hostility from a Native American tribe, the Arikara.  Overrun by an Arikara attack, a handful of survivors from the hunting party salvage what they can from their expedition and flee down river.  After returning to land, Glass scouts ahead in an effort to avoid the Arikara (or any other Native American conflict) and inadvertently finds himself between a grizzly bear mother and her cubs.  He manages to fight off the grizzly's attack, but not before being savagely mauled and nearly killed by the confrontation.  After much debate among the remaining party members, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) decides to leave Glass under the watch of fellow trappers John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Bridger (Will Poulter), and Glass's son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) while he returns to their camp of origin where he plans to send out a proper search party to reclaim the small group of survivors.  Fitzgerald had been very outspoken about cutting loses but agrees to stay behind to protect the ravaged Glass when a cash reward is offered by Captain Henry.  After Henry's departure it doesn't take long before Fitzgerald takes matters in his own hands, killing Hawk, convincing Bridger that it was the result of another native attack, and abandoning Glass.  Left for dead in the frigid wilderness, Glass sees visions of his dead wife (a Native American herself who had been killed in a raid on their village). Drawing strength from her words, Glass manages to survive and sets out in search of Fitzgerald on a mission of revenge for the death of his son.

DiCaprio has been nominated for four individual Academy Awards in the past, but has yet to take home an Oscar.  The Revenant may provide his best opportunity to date despite the limited speaking involved in the role.  Tom Hardy is equally impressive as John Fitzgerald, providing a very palpable threat-turned-nemesis to the story.  Gleeson and Poulter are also strong in their limited roles, both torn by their respective decisions and by Fitzgerald's manipulations.

Writer/Director Alejandro González Iñárritu follows up 2014's Birdman with another gorgeously shot piece of cinema.  His panoramic sweeping shots capture both the beauty and savagery of the Montana/South Dakota winter wilderness.  They also make for some really amazing shots during action sequences, particularly the opening sequences in which Glass's party is overrun by the Arikara. The choreography and shooting of the grizzly attack is also quite stunning.

DiCaprio and Hardy are currently two of my favorite actors and Iñárritu is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors.  This film made the honorable mention portion of my Most Anticipated Films of 2015 list without there even being a trailer at the time, and it will most assuredly place quite highly on my upcoming Best Films of 2015 post.  It is the type of film that I would highly recommend, although I realizing that it likely falls into the 'not for everyone' category due to its frontier setting and the inclusion of animal related violence. If neither of those things bothers you, this film is well worth the two and a half hour run time.  The tension of Glass's survival and quest for vengeance keep you on the edge of your seat.  If you enjoy great acting and amazing cinematography be sure to give The Revenant a watch.


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