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On A Wilderness Quest: The Revenant
In The Revenant, a party of pelt hunters and their protectors encounter hostilities as they go about their business. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, an experienced guide in the 1820s in a part of the Louisiana Purchase now known as Wyoming. The group, however, gets ambushed by Anikara Indians seeking to get revenge on those who kidnapped Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk'o), the daughter of tribal leader Elk Dog (Duane Howard). Glass is one of just ten ambush survivors who make their way to safety in a remote part of the forest. The next day, Glass is severely injured by a mother grizzly protecting her cubs. Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), the expedition leader, will not let Glass die without making the effort to save him, but that directive slows down the survivors trying to return to their base. In exchange for added pay, Henry finds Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass's half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forest Goodluck) willing to stay with Glass while the others return to their fort. However, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), himself an experienced hunter and trapper, convinces Henry to let him stay with the teenaged Hawk and Bridger. Henry tasks Fitzgerald to make sure that Glass gets care and burial.
Once Henry and the others leave, though, Fitzgerald plans to end the care part for the speechless and virtually immobile Glass. When Hawk catches Fitzgerald trying to smother his father, Fizgerald responds by killing Hawk and burying Glass alive. Fitzgerald ensures Bridger's silence as the two head to Henry's outpost. Glass, though, finds the strength to crawl from his grave and discover Hawk's body. He starts to treat his own injuries as he makes his own slow return to the base. A Pawnee man called Hikuc (Arthur Redcloud) gives him food and aid until he himself is hanged. Shortly after Hikuc's death, Glass learns who abducted Powaqa, and risks his own life to save her. Fitzgerald, on his return to the outpost with Bridger, tells Henry a series of lies about Glass and Hawk, which become unraveled when Glass finally is discovered to be alive.
The Revenant, based on a novel by Michael Punke and inspired by the real Hugh Glass, captures the feel and the danger of the old west in stunning fashion. Most of the movie has its setting during a frigid time of year. Director and co-scenarist Alejandro G. Inarritu makes the cold weather seem as palpable as the inhumanity shown on the three sides of the movie's conflict - Fitzgerald, the Anikara, and the rival French trappers who have ulterior motives of their own. Some of the treatments Glass uses to improve his condition are primitive, even by 1820s standards. Glass is not merely content with surviving - he wants to deal with Fitzgerald once and for all. While Inarritu moves at a deliberately slow pace, he sometimes moves too slowly in a film that does not have a great deal of dialogue. Viewers do not need as detailed an ordeal as the director delivers, but he does create a vivid picture of the time. As he did for Inarritu in Birdman, Emmanuel Lubezki delivers a host of striking images of a place far from civilization.
The Revenant also features one of DiCaprio's most memorable performances. Hugh Glass leads by action more than he does by words. He uses all of his survival skill to endure in a situation that would have killed most others. Some of the vegetation Glass finds helps to heal his wounds, and uses other vegetation and tree limbs to build fires. While some of the anger in Glass finds itself expressed in words, DiCaprio often uses expression to show his disdain for Fitzgerald or mourn the loss of Hawk, as Glass is too incapacitated to do little else. Hardy acts more like a mercenary than an ally as the tough and nasty Fitzgerald, whose main concern is profit. Even as the Arikara kill most of their party, he wonders primarily if they can retrieve the pelts they have already acquired. Others around him know they can either stay silent about his deeds or be silenced. Gleeson and Poulter offer fine support as Henry and Bridger, who ultimately never lose their sense of humanity. It is Bridger, who lived in a large part of the 19th century west, who performs the one act of kindness that he can that becomes pivotal in Glass's fate. I also admired the small parts of Goodluck and Redcloud as natives who gave their lives to help Glass.
The Revenant follows the Oscar success of Birdman with another work that has garnered deserved acclaim. Inarritu successfully shifts from one man's comic misadventures to another's near-death experiences as he takes viewers to a time where men often had to rely on their own cunning to deal with the elements and the life native to that land. It also helps men like Hugh Glass to be among men he can trust without question. When one of them breaks that trust in irreversible fashion, Glass determines to find that man and make him pay. The Revenant is a well-done western that shows the harshness of conditions - not only of those in nature, but also of those in the nature of some men.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Revenant 3.5 stars. A fight to the finish for survival.