I admired it - but also desperately wanted it to end: The Revenant reviewed

Whether you enjoy this film will essentially depend on how strong your stomach is and how much you’re into watching Leonardo DiCaprio grunting for two-and-a-half hours

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

The Revenant

15, Nationwide

The Revenant is a survival-against-the-odds film that so puts Leonardo DiCaprio through it I bet he was thinking, ‘I wish I was back on that boat that went down.’ He is mauled by a bear. Viciously. He is buried alive. He eats still-throbbing, blood-dripping raw liver, and quite forgets his manners. (Wipe your chin, man; there’s never any excuse.) He cauterises his own wounds, falls off cliffs, spins down rapids, slits open a dead horse and sleeps within for warmth. The film recently triumphed at the Golden Globes — best film, best director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), best actor (DiCaprio) — but all I was thinking was, ‘Oh God, please let this be over soon.’ Faint hope. It’s two-and-a-half hours long, long, long and while there are moments of tremendous, jaw-dropping beauty, the violence is so pitiless and the spiritual aspects so pitiful that even I wished he was back on that boat that went down. I know. Imagine.

This is based, apparently, on the true story of Hugo Glass, a 19th-century fur trapper who became famous in 1823 for surviving that bear attack, being abandoned by the two members of his expedition tasked to stay with him and staggering 200 miles over six weeks to avenge those who had left him for dead. Set in Montana and South Dakota, but filmed in the Canadian Rockies and Argentina, this opens as it means to go on, with grandeur and magnificence — a breathtaking landscape, an icy sun filtering through the groaning pines — combined with unflinching brutality. A hunting party is under attack from a Native American tribe, and the first you know about it is when, thwock!, an arrow bisects one of their throats. And from what I then saw from between my fingers, there were scalpings. (I think.)

Only a few escape, as led by Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), but their progress is substantially stalled when Glass, who is travelling with his teenage son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), is set upon by that grizzly. This is an astounding scene. The bear is one big mamma. The bear is enormous. The bear ripples and claws. The bear bites and paws. The bear is CGI, presumably, but you can feel its breath on your own face, having forced its way through the gaps between your fingers, and the sequence is filmed in a single, seemingly never-ending take, as if happening in real time. Afterwards, Glass is practically dead. He cannot move. He cannot speak. His wounds gape and pulse. Henry thinks he should kill him, but can’t. Offering money, he commands a fellow hunter, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, employing a weird accent), to stay with him, along with one other (Will Poulter) so the two can give him a decent burial when he dies. Hawk stays too. Hawk is half-Native American, on his mother’s side. Hawk is Glass’s back story, as told in flashbacks. Hawk is fictional, invented by Iñárritu to, presumably, offer up a father-son narrative, thereby adding another emotional layer to the story, but this always feels like exactly what it is: a contrivance, added on for effect. This is not a film you go to see for its emotional complexity is what I’m saying. (I think.)

The action progresses when it transpires that Fitzgerald is not a man of his word, proves murderous, and Glass ends up tossed into an open grave. The rest of the film is then devoted to Glass not dying, as he scrabbles for food and water, falls off those cliffs, spins down those icy rapids, performs self-surgery on his infected, festering wounds — oh, Jesus! — and so on. DiCaprio’s performance is one of grunts and lunges and groans and doing a particular grimace that put me in mind of Jack Nicholson on the poster for The Shining. He doesn’t have much to do beyond this, but he does do it all with conviction.

The film is about its visual aesthetic and splendour — even every little scrap of moss looks truly alive — and the fact that it’s not afraid to heap primal horror on to primal horror, even though I rather wish it were. But Iñárritu (who also gave us the rather gimmicky Birdman) is all swagger and not much else. Story-wise, you have to suspend disbelief and keep it suspended or you’ve had it, basically. Glass, for example, seems to go from disabled to able-bodied with remarkable speed. There are continuity errors, to do with coats and furs and when there’s snow and when there isn’t. As for the flashbacks, which recount the murder of Hawk’s mother by white soldiers, these scenes are sentimental clichés, as well as jam-packed with spiritual banalities. (‘Revenant’, by the way, means ‘a person who returns in spirit after death’ and there is no shame in having to look that up …I hope.)

Whether you enjoy — is that the right word? — this film will essentially depend on how strong your stomach is, and whether stories such as this float your boat. I admired its ambition, but also found it an endurance test. I was longing for it to be over, and so relieved when it was.

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Show comments
  • Tamerlane

    Survival films are one big snooze.

    • superbombastik

      Your an idiot.

      • Tamerlane

        You’re or Your? Important to get it right first time…else you might look a bit of an idiot.

        • Todd Unctious

          Spelling errors only make one look a bit of an idiot. Writing gibberish confirms your total idiocy.

          • Tamerlane

            You would know.

          • Todd Unctious

            Incisive as ever. I am talking about how you have a unique capacity to reveal yourself as the idiot among us. That village must be missing you now.

  • Sadie

    Interesting… I found the story incredibly emotional… I was in tears twice and I was incredibly dubious about the son. But I thought that relationship showed the thing Glass cared about beyond survival and that was being a good father, protecting his child. And what happens to him when all that was gone.

  • Danton McDiffett

    I am 100% in agreement with you here, both about the length of the film, the repetitiveness of DiCaprio’s grunting, the unreality of his rapid recovery (I laughed aloud when he vaulted onto that horse during the Indian attack near the 3/4 mark), and the beauty of the scenery.

  • Jamie

    It’s hard to take you seriously when you can’t even manage to get the main characters name right, it’s Hugh Glass, not Hugo. Your writing is just insufferable, I’m sorry. You whine like a 6 year old, hiding behind your fingers during the action — Maybe next time you should stick to something more suited for infants and leave these types of films to those that can handle it.

  • iMutti

    The imagery looks amazing but I think I’ll have to give it a miss and watch Cold Mountain again instead.

  • trace9

    Well this just proves women aren’t fit for the armed forces – you can’t fight squinting through your fingers. It also proves this one isn’t fit to write a competent column. What she misses (pun intended), is the fact that the real-life original did find his deserters, but in the Christian & decent spirit of those days, forgave them. We prefer mindless revenge. Easier on Twitter tho’… I’ll see it for the scenery. Some Summertime..

    • Jamie

      Excuse me? This doesn’t prove anything about women. I am female and the most enjoyable aspect of the film was the unforgiving action and brutality. Please by all means insult this incompetent writer, but don’t lump all women together. Some of us happen to love the extremely gory combat scenes, thanks.

  • King Zog

    “Tom Hardy, employing a weird accent”

    He’s got a weird accent in every film he does. I’m not sure if he can even do an accent, and surely that must be a basic acting skill I liked him in Bronson, though.

  • Vinnie

    It wasn’t filmed in the Rockies it was filmed Southern Ontario which isn’t a million miles away from Dakota

  • trobrianders

    Oh, you admired it did you? Congratulations. I’m sure your friends/peers will love that you’re as pompous as them.

  • David

    Not sure about any Ontario shooting. Thought it was mainly Northen Alberta and Argentina.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Saw it last week. The story line’s a tad linear.

  • Cyril Sneer

    I thought it was alright, well crafted, beautifully shot if not bleak and depressing. It held my interest. I do tire of the constant references to ‘evil white men’ and the ‘oh so poor suffering indians’.. Racial politics bol lox in films gets on my nerves but I suppose this was unavoidable considering the character the films is about.

    I’d like to see someone cover the downright atrocious things the native indians did to innocent people, their brutality against women and children for example but I guess that would be too politically ‘incorrect’ for shrivelled liberal brains.

    • johnmarsh

      Agreed, the endless white-guilt in Hollywood is becoming predictable and tiresome, not to mention historically inaccurate (the native Indians themselves were genocidal).

    • truthcorrupts

      awww …the poor white man’s plight , how did you ever survive this this long?

  • Zalacain

    It was far, far too long. The bear was good though.

  • Ipsedixit

    I liked films when the Indians were the bad’ns

  • Gabriel Parra

    Go back to transformers.They left you blind to appreciate cinema art. Be glad. X Men is coming back soon. Enjoy.

    • Max

      This film actually could have had the same screenwriter as Transformers paired with a different director.

  • Atticus

    I couldn’t agree more with your review.