1823 was a dangerous year to live in the Louisiana Purchase. Brutal weather, threatening wildlife, and natives defensive of their territory all made for odds that were stacked way against incoming settlers. It’s not a setting that we see in stories a whole lot anymore. However, it is perfect for “The Revenant.”
To say that director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s (“Birdman”) work is simply about a fur trapper being left for dead does the film a massive disservice. It’s a film about love in a new world, and hatred so strong that it can keep the dead alive. The pre-Trail of Tears setting allows for a very harsh and foreboding atmosphere, where fog and snowfall envelop the world and create mood.
With that being said, it should help to explain what the film is about, because knowing that ahead of time can really help a first-time viewer — more on that in a minute. The film follows a group of trappers hunting for pelts when they get ambushed by a native tribe. Events transpire and the group is split up, and that’s when the story splits into three branches. One follows the group’s guide, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Great Gatsby”) as he is left alone and must find his own way back home. Another follows trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, “Mad Max: Fury Road”) as he abandons the party and makes his own cynical decisions. The final branch follows Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson, “Ex Machina”) and the rest of the trappers as they try to rendezvous with their comrades.
I tell you all of this now because without that preliminary information, the film’s first few moments will lose you. The film tells the audience the bare essentials to Glass’s character before thrusting him and the others immediately into action. A lot of the film’s drama happens wordlessly, and when words are spoken they’re almost always accompanied with an early nineteenth-century frontier drawl that’s hard to decipher.
This doesn’t keep the story from being any good – far from it. It’s easier to pay attention to the characters’ actions rather than their words, and it is their actions that tell the bulk of the story. Inarritu’s style of cinematography allows for huge swathes of action to be shown in single shots, so much so that the camera is almost a character of its own.
It’s a brutal and inhuman tale, and a very slow one at that. Audiences have a lot to sit through with this one. If they can, though, they’ll find a complex and often beautiful look at the human condition. It takes a lot of effort to watch “The Revenant,” but it’s a more satisfying watch because of that. If you think you can handle nature and mankind at its most feral, and you have the patience to slowly put the pieces together yourself, it’s a masterful experience.
Film: The Revenant
Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson
Genre: Survival thriller
Rekease Date: December 25, 2015