The Revenant

THE REVENANT. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, and Lukas Haas. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong bloody violence, themes, and sexual violence). 156 min.

This American-Canadian film is based loosely on Michael Punke's 2002 biographical novel of the same name which tells the story of Western Frontiersman, Hugh Glass. The film is set in the 19th. Century, and was filmed in the environmental wilderness of Calgary, Canada.

The life of American huntsmen in the harsh environment of the 1820s was incredibly dangerous. To kill animals for their pelts also meant risking attack by hostile Indian tribes and vicious beasts, and doing battle with the awesome forces of nature.

Explorer, frontiersman and fur-trapper, Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio) is a member of a hunting team that is almost wiped-out by an Indian tribe in the film's shocking opening sequences. Surviving the attack, Glass is mauled viciously by a bear and eventually left for dead by the remaining members of his hunting team, who he trusted. The meaning of the film's title, "The Revenant", which is of Latin derivation, refers to a visible ghost or animated corpse believed to return from the grave to terrorise the living. In the film, Glass recovers to seek vengeance on the person who left him to die, and who murdered his young, native-American son. To do that, however, he has to live through a cruel winter, which throws every conceivable obstacle in his way.

The film is basically a survival tale about a man facing incredible odds. Although, vengeance is the motive that propels Glass originally, the film takes on something of a higher tone under Alejandro Narritu's intelligent direction. Glass's journey forces him to face grief, and to come to grips with a sense of loss, as well as his feelings of having being betrayed, and all his emotions occur amidst the stress of his thinking that he won't survive. The bear attack at the beginning of the film is an amazing piece of cinema, horrific to watch, and incredibly realistic. Animation was obviously used in its making, but it is impossible to detect how it was employed.

The role of Glass is physically and mentally a very demanding one, and DiCaprio throws himself into the part in a totally committed way. The script for him is surprisingly sparse. He acts with incredible mental and physical strength, and conveys Glass's situation largely non-verbally.

This is very much a film about a man pushed to his psychological and physical limit by extreme circumstances over which he has little control. Dealing so intensely with strong themes of emotional and physical survival, the film is highly impactful. It is long (156 min.), violent, and harrowing. It explores dramatically Glass's character to the point of physical and mental exhaustion. It is an extraordinary role for Leonardo DiCaprio to tackle.

The film deals powerfully with the themes of personal retribution, survival, grief and revenge, but the one thing thing that rises constantly above the degree of violence it shows is the film's magnificent imagery. From wintry landscapes, snow-bound sunsets, and icy, swollen rivers the viewer is exposed to some unforgettable visual imagery. One such image is Glass surviving a blizzard in the night by sleeping naked, deep inside the carcass of his horse. It is largely the quality of the imagery that rescues the film from being a grim adventure tale about wilful vengeance.

Without question, Leonardo DiCaprio brings dramatic force to an incredibly difficult role, and he is assisted ably by those around him, especially Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald, the murderous individual consumed by greed who left him for dead. Inarritu, manages to make sure that viewers share intimately and realistically in whatever unfolds on the screen, but he makes the film very difficult to watch in many places.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Twentieth Century Fox

Released January 7th., 2015

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