Blu-ray Review: ‘The Revenant’

A little research of “The Revenant” should reveal that the cast and crew endured brutal conditions and torturous terrain during the production. One could say that translated to the finished product as this two hour and thirty-six minute western is a high art version of torture porn. Animals are eviscerated, natives scalp invaders on their lands, and all this is done as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass takes beating after beating.

“The Revenant” falls more in line with director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s previous dark and depressing work like “21 Grams” or “Babel” than the fun but also depressing Oscar-winning “Birdman.” He and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have created a movie whose beauty and scope is potentially unmatched, but the disturbing and often times boring story makes “The Revenant” much ado about nothing.

The opening scene of “The Revenant” immediately puts every viewer in the American wilderness of the 1820s. The fact that Inarritu’s team was able to find a place on Earth (that mostly being Alberta, Canada and Tierra del Fuego, Argentina) that remains this untouched is remarkable, which may have led to the Terence Malick-like over-filming of running water or wind blowing through trees.

Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is a tracker leading a group of fur trappers, one of which is his half white-half-Pawnee Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), through this unruly terrain. After narrowly escaping a raid from natives, the trappers are forced to abandon their original plans to return home via boat.

This takes the group, led by Andrew Henry (Domhall Gleeson), deep into the forest in an effort to escape their attackers. While scouting alone, Glass sits down to take a load off and, in one of the most terrifying sequences put to film, is attacked by a momma bear, seemingly protecting her cubs. The visceral brutality of what seems like an hour of mauling is not for the squeamish.

As Glass is mortally injured, Henry enlists a few men to stay behind with him to either wait for help or give him a proper burial. Hawk stays behind with young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and a racist, short-tempered man-monster, Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

At this point, “The Revenant” is doing great and, if nothing more, is an intense thriller with layers of sociopolitical overtones involving the white poachers and Native Americans. There are good white guys, evil white guys, good natives, and bad natives.

Then it becomes simply watching DiCaprio endure pain while turning “The Revenant” into nothing more than a revenge flick. He drags himself through dirt, sleeps covered in snow, risks hypothermia during an escape in freezing water, and, in one of the more sickening moments in recent movie history, does unspeakable things to a horse.

Of course, this is all done in the name of survival. The problem with “The Revenant” is Glass isn’t driven by the human spirit, he’s moved only by the desire for payback.

If this movie was crafted by anyone other than Inarritu and Lubezki, it would be unwatchable. There are shots in “The Revenant” that literally can take your breath away. It’s a virtual shoo-in for the Best Cinematography Oscar and it naturally has several one-take sequences that you’d expect from the Inarritu-Lubezki team.

If this is the movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio is finally awarded a Best Actor Oscar, it feels like it would be based on career achievement. While there is little doubt that he threw himself into the physicality of the role, there’s little acting involved. DiCaprio barely speaks throughout the film and does nothing to emotionally hook in the viewer.

Tom Hardy grumbles and growls to the extent that his Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” may be easier to understand. Hardy’s Fitzgerald is the only clear cut villain in “The Revenant” and his actions alone make him hatable, but there is inexplicably more character development with him than DiCaprio’s Glass.

“The Revenant” is a maddening film. The technical moviemaking behind it is indescribable. Everything down to the direction, photography, editing, sound, and score is perfection created by artists at the height of their powers. This movie will be studied by film students and critics for years to come, while boring the movie going public to pieces.

Sadly, “The Revenant” is as ice cold as the climate in which it takes place as that very same team of artists forgot one extremely important detail: heart.

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  1. January 18, 2016
    • January 18, 2016

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