revenant: (adjective) one that returns after death or a long absence
When I first saw the trailer for The Revenant, I rejoiced in getting another western film for Christmas, this time with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead. Last weekend I went and saw The Hateful Eight, which is it’s own twisted brand of western, but The Revenant is quite different. It’s not a western, but a frontier movie, more akin to Jeremiah Johnson than The Outlaw Josie Wales. Upon watching the movie, the overwhelming feeling is just how brutal and harsh of a story this is. It’s not a fun, happy movie at all. Yet with a strong emphasis on visuals, and some provocative characters, it tells an interesting tale.
The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, but the funny thing is that he barely speaks in the movie. In fact the entire film is rather bare when it comes to dialog. It’s there, and some of it is quite good, but most of the talking scenes go to the supporting cast of Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson. Leo’s role is mostly physical and emotional struggle as life and nature throw hell at him at every turn. Scenes of violence are broken by long, torturous pauses and brief moments of conversation. The violence does not pull any punches. The long pauses revel in the beauty of the surroundings–lush snowscapes, sunlit forests, and rolling rivers. And the conversations, well, Tom Hardy does his best to steal those scenes with his quirky personality. It’s a very interesting mix for a film, but it’s also a very odd film.
The very beginning of the movie shows some flashback scenes of a man named Glass. It’s a little light on the details, but the gist is that he fell in love with an Indian woman, they had a kid, and white men destroyed their life. They burned the village they were in and killed Glass’ wife. Now, wandering through the wild, untamed frontier of America, Glass and his son guide expeditions and hunting parties. This quickly gives way to Indian attacks, a violent battle, and bloody retreat. It’s up to Glass to lead the battered expedition to safety, but he runs into trouble of his own. One bad thing after another, violence begetting violence, the movie holds no peace for Glass. His life has its moments of good fortune, but it’s mostly riddled by terrible things. Hardy plays the part of a trapper on the expedition who goes from being an ornery s.o.b. to a mean son of a bitch. He’s colorful and terrible at the same time, which makes him a great villain. Gleeson, on the other hand, rounds out the trio as the honorable leader of the expedition. He makes tough choices, but he’s fair. While there are others in the film, these three form the core.
The problem with the movie is its brutal nature. Glass’ struggle, in a way, hamstrings the character. Viewers don’t get much time to bond with the character before the film starts tearing him apart. One thing that would have really helped the movie would’ve been some development of the father-son relationship. The parts we do see are a little cold and harsh which doesn’t endear the viewer to the characters or the bond between. When those bonds are tested, there’s still an emotional punch, but it’s not as great as it could have been if the relationship had been better established. The long, arduous struggle that the story turns into is also a little choppy and just a tad confusing, though it eventually makes some sense. There’s a band of Indians going around looking for the chief’s missing daughter, a band of Frenchmen who are double dealing with the Indians, the expedition of hunters, a lone female Indian, and a lone male Indian. It’s not clear if the lone female Indian is the chief’s daughter, how the Frenchmen fit into the whole thing, and the lone male Indian seems pretty much random. There’s some clues on how they might fit in, but nothing is clearly answered. Even Glass’ past is left murky with flashbacks and strange dreams. That lack of clarity and well laid out storyline hurt the film a little.
Yet even with those flaws, it’s still an interesting movie. The beautiful shots of the environment coupled with the lack of dialog make the film a very visual experience. Even the violence is done in a way that’s different, dramatic, and–oddly enough–entertaining. It comes in bursts, unsuspecting like, especially amidst the peaceful nature of the snowy forests, plains and rivers. The twists of the story quickly delve into a tale of revenge, but it’s also a story about survival, duty, honor and the brutal nature of humankind. It’s worth watching, and the big screen certainly adds to the beauty of the landscapes.
While The Revenant won’t land on anyone’s top ten westerns list, and I wouldn’t say it’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s best film or best performance, he definitely give it his all and it’s a unique experience. For a frontier revenge movie, it’s entertaining, brutal and harsh. I give it a four out of five metal bikinis.
Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.