Review: ‘The Revenant’ – Winter is Coming

and so is Leonardo DiCaprio – Eventually


A group of fur trappers is baling beaver pelts. The year is 1823, and a summer of back-breaking labor has been rewarded with an autumn of more back-breaking labor. The grueling job is drawing to a close as winter sets in and the men must begin a long trek back to the protection of a distant fort, hauling the heavy skins with them. Suddenly the trappers are attacked by a group of Arikara warriors and more than 30 of them – about two-thirds of their ranks – are killed. In an instant, the group’s priorities shift from trading to survival.

“The Revenant,” is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as trapper Hugh Glass, Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald and Domhnall Gleeson as Captain Andrew Henry, is loosely based on actual events and historical characters. “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” is a 2002 novel by Michael Punke, who is a  Deputy United States Trade Representative and US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization, oddly enough, which prevented him from writing the screenplay adaption. It was adapted by Mark L. Smith, better known for the “Vacancy” horror franchise.

The Arikara attack was only the beginning of Glass’ woes, as in the next scene he is brutally mauled by a grizzly bear. The trappers give Glass some first aid, place him on a gurney and continue their journey while Glass drifts in and out of consciousness. Faced by a steep mountain trail, it occurs to Henry that Glass is slowing the party to the point where all of their lives are in jeopardy. Eventually Glass is left for dead and buried alive by his party.

A revenant is defined as “one that returns after death or a long absence.” Glass survives his premature burial and vows revenge. But it is a long way back to the fort and he has no weapons, limited provisions and is badly injured and heartsick.

“The Revenant” features the scenic beauty of “Brokeback Mountain,”(2005) the blood and gore of “Apocalypto” (2006) with a healthy dose of “Black Robe” (1991) for aesthetics. Every character has to compromise to survive. Fitzgerald raises the question as to whether revenge is a worthwhile motivation because it is impossible to change the outcome of past events.

The Golden Globes awarded “The Revenant” Best Motion Picture, Drama; Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama, Leonardo DiCaprio; and Best Director, Motion Picture, to Alejandro González Iñárritu. These accolades are absolutely earned; the acting is superb throughout, the costumes and art direction are wonderful, the cinematography is beautiful and despite lingering shots of dripping icicles, the pacing is brisk.  Native Americans are depicted without the stereotypes that usually accompany stories about the American frontier. Perhaps the best description of this film is “raw.”

“The Revenant” has also garnered 12 Academy Award nominations and is expected to do very well on Oscar night. The production was apparently also a long, grim survival march with the cast and crew pitted against the elements, which included temperatures that dropped to 40 below zero on some nights. DiCaprio learned enough Pawnee and Arikara to be convincing in the role, and also ate raw bison liver for greater authenticity.

This is an extremely well-made movie. It is well worth watching, it has earned its “buzz,” and the historical accuracy and the cinematography is stunning. “The Revenant” is certainly not for everyone and can’t be described as “entertaining.” The writing is sparse, there is no witty dialogue, no personality arcs to speak of. Characters are introduced and they live or they die.  It is about survival, and in many ways stretched credulity as to the limits of human endurance. This movie is uncomfortable to watch.

I give it 3 out of 5 stars