I got caught up in the sweep of The Revenant, and the way in which director Alejandro Inarritu transports you to the North American wilderness of the 1820s is the reason why.
Because of that, the fact that the story wasn’t that original didn’t matter to me. The tale of one man who suffers tragedy and overcomes huge odds to survive, and then to find justice, is the stuff of many a film. In this case the plot is based, loosely, on a true story. Frontier scout Hugh Glass was attacked in the wilderness and survived.
The Revenant adds a few layers to that basic tale, with Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) having earlier lost his American Indian wife and then his son. The spiritual/mystical link he feels with that family becomes part of the story of why he survives.
So that’s all good. You can choose to accept this part of the story or not. You can take issue over just how plausible Glass’ survival is (There were times it did stretch credibility).
For me all these considerations were swept aside in the harsh, brutal, but also beautiful, majesty of the film. It is as close to being in the wilderness as you could get. You virtually feel how cold the winter is. You see the actors’ breath fogging the camera lens. You hear the crunch of their feet as they walk through the woods, and the snow. You are assailed by the howl of the storm. When arrows and bullets are fired – as they often are- they whistle past your ear.
Maybe it’s years of working in television news and current affairs, but I do appreciate how the director is using his cameras. I think Inarritu masterfully blends wider panoramas with gripping hand held scenes, where you feel you are running shoulder to shoulder with a character through a battle scene.
The film fully engages with the grim morality of the frontiersman, and the choices put before the story’s band of trappers. It deals with how 1820’s Europeans engaged with American Indian tribes. I thought this was done well. In a quick bit of research I find no reference to Hugh Glass actually having an Indian wife and son, so this may well be a dramatic embellishment. But this is a drama! There are a few quibbles – the film would have been even better if it was a little shorter, and I occasionally found Tom Hardy’s American drawl a little hard to follow – but this is minor stuff.
Inarritu famously put his actors through all manner of hardship to make this film. It shows, and it’s the better for it. The cast deliver the goods and they are ably led by DiCaprio. For much of the film he has little or nothing to say. He just has to survive. He does, in gut wrenching and epic fashion. I found him captivating. As I did the film. Worth the price of a ticket, and then some.