When Birdman and Babel director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu decided to bring his passion project, “The Renevant”, to the big screen, he knew it would be one of the biggest challenges that he, his actors, and film crew would ever face. Basically because Gonzalez would go all in. No holds barred. He would shoot the film in the lush foothills of Kananaskis, and other Canadian locations, and Argentina, under some of the most grueling conditions. It literally tested everyone’s resolve to complete the film. The final product was decisively worth the massive effort.
Set in the rugged 1820’s American frontier, The Revenant (a person who returns, especially supposedly from the dead) is based on true events from Michael Punke’s book, and allows Leonardo DiCaprio to really brandish his acting chops in what is probably his most intense screen performance. He’s the Grizzly Adams like Hugh Glass, fur trapper and guide for a hunting party looking to score as many animal pelts as possible. Along for this back-breaking exercise in abrasive manhood, is Glass’s son Hawk, half Native American, who Tom Hardy’s John Fitzgerald apparently doesn’t like very much. It’s certainly not a party when you’re being attacked by Native Americans at nearly every turn.
Unfortunately, during the arduous excursion, Glass is viciously mauled by a huge grizzly bear, his heavily layered animal skin wear preventing his being torn to pieces by the colossus. Even more unfortunate, is when Fitz-gerald arbitrarily declares him dead, even though he is still very much alive. When son Hawk calls for help, Fitzgerald stabs him, then performs a rush makeshift burial for Glass. Since he’s not really dead, Glass eventually, not to mention painfully, crawls from beneath the laden dust and dirt vowing one of the oldest motivations known to man – revenge. For him and his son.
Watching The Revenant is certainly not as highly demanding as it was to film (it clocks in at over 2 1/2 hours), but it does command your attention, and your empathy despite it’s longevity. This is due to not only to an incredible ensemble cast, but also the sweeping vistas of unforgiving northern woods captured so vividly by Birdman cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. There’s no escaping the harsh environment that draws a person vicarious-ly into the stark realities of frontier life.
Leo DiCaprio has the “Titanic” burden of carrying The Revenant, and at this writing has been nominated for the coveted Oscar for Best Lead Actor. It could be his year. The Wolf of Wallstreet actor thoroughly puts his pro-verbial heart and soul into Hugh Glass. And when you consider all he and his fellow players went through to make this film, you may wonder whether he’s really “acting” at all. DiCaprio reaches a level of realism before the ca-mera that, because of the jagged atmosphere, seems difficult, yet quite natural.
Glass’s prime antagonist/antagonizer Fitzgerald, is rendered to ample effect by a clearly unrevealed Tom Hardy. His scruffy beard is perfect camouflage as you try with extreme dificulty to find his true facial features. He’s definitely the pic’s bad seed, not only giving Glass a hard time but Domhnall Gleeson’s Captain Henry as well as they all navigate the wilderness for pelts, hoping to get a decent wage at the end of this journey.
And it has been a long journey from initial concept to screen for The Revenant. All involved, including supporting cast members Will Poulter and notably, Native American actor Duane Howard, rose to overcome the wide-spread challenges necessary to create an epic film. It is not just another period movie, but a total experience that will remember once you exit the theater.