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"THE REVENANT"
(2015) (Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An early 19th century frontiersman must overcome a horrific bear attack and other tremendous obstacles as he sets out to get revenge on those who wronged him.
PLOT:
It's the early 1820s and Hugh Glass (LEONARDO DiCAPRIO) is a white man who's lived with the Pawnee Indian tribe in the American west and now works as a scout for fur trappers plying their trade. His latest outing has him and his teenage, half-white, half-Indian son, Hawk (FORREST GOODLUCK), leading Andrew Henry (DOMHNALL GLEESON) and his team of trappers, including the likes of John Fitzgerald (TOM HARDY) and Jim Bridger (WILL POULTER), among others.

Unfortunately for them, an attack led by Elk Dog (DUANE HOWARD) -- an Arikara warrior trying to track down his daughter, Powaqa (MELAW NAKEHK'O) who's been abducted by French soldiers -- leaves many dead. After they lose their last boat, but manage to get away, the survivors set off on foot. It's then when Hugh, off scouting ahead, comes across a mother grizzly bear that attacks and severely wounds him.

When the others find him, things look bad, not only from the injuries, but also the fact that they can't transport him via stretcher through the snowy and rocky terrain. Andrew contemplates shooting Hugh to put him out of his misery, but can't do the deed. Instead, he asks for volunteers to stay with Hugh until he dies, and then bury him and set out to rejoin the group. John and Jim agree, but when the latter is away, John kills Hawk and then buries Hugh, dying but still alive. After informing Jim that Hugh has died, they set off, unaware that Hugh has unearthed himself.

Suffering from those horrible injuries, Hugh nurses himself back to health enough so that he can start tracking down those who wronged him. As he does, he gets aid from Hikuc (ARTHUR REDCLOUD), an Indian traveling alone, all while having to avoid the French soldiers and other perils along the way.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
For the 2015 movie award season, it's quite likely we'll have two contenders about men left alone and for dead in desolate places, with little chance of living, who must overcome lots of obstacles and then trek a long way to reach their goal. But while one is about a man simply wanting to survive and the combination of his ingenuity and perseverance along with the collective teamwork of others who have the same goal, the other is about such a trek in order to enact revenge.

The first, of course, is "The Martian," a sometimes dire and suspenseful but otherwise uplifting and entertaining tale of the human will to survive and how it takes a village, so to speak, to make that a reality. The other is this week's release, "The Revenant," an intense film about getting even with those who've wronged you. Certainly not uplifting or entertaining in the traditional, "let's go to the movies to escape" sense, it is one of the better films of the year if you can stomach the material.

It's based on Michael Punke's "The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge," the 2002 work about American frontiersman Hugh Glass who was left for dead following a horrible attack by a momma grizzly bear and then managed to travel more than 200 miles (in 1823, no less) looking for those who abandoned him.

According to European folklore, a revenant is a corpse that has returned from the grave to terrorize the living, and in some filmmaking hands, this easily could have been a supernatural horror flick. Instead, writer/director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who co-wrote the screenplay adaptation of Punke's novel, has followed the lead, loosely, of the 1971 film "Man in the Wilderness" where Richard Harris played a character based on Glass who's also left for dead in the American wilderness.

Here, that pivotal character is played by Leonardo DiCaprio who, like in many of his prior parts, disappears so deeply into the role that the movie star persona completely evaporates and you quickly come to believe you're watching a flesh and blood person (rather than just an actor playing one).

Speaking of those two visceral components, viewers should be made aware of the film's graphic violence. From an intense opening sequence featuring an Indian attack on fur traders to the much talked-about bear attack scene that's so realistic looking you'll wonder if a real (but trained) bear was used on Leo (or a stunt double) and other such footage, the flick is not for the squeamish.

Ironically enough, however, the movie is one of the most beautifully shot films you might ever see, thanks to the brilliant work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who also shot Iñárritu's last film, "Birdman," along with the likes of "Gravity," "The Tree of Life," "Children of Men" and so on. Shooting only in natural light (meaning no powered studio lights), the film is nothing short of amazing to behold, capturing the American wilderness (and the ugly, dirty men in it) in all its glory.

The performances are good across the board, with DiCaprio likely to earn yet another Oscar nomination (his work is mostly physical as much of his dialogue disappears, natch, once he's on his own). Hardy (who I didn't initially recognize, and proves again that he's one of the most versatile actors working today) should also earn some award love.

But this is really Iñárritu's film, and he masterfully guides us through this gritty tale of survival and revenge. When boiled down to its essence (various interwoven tales of loss and varying views and styles of revenge), there really isn't anything here we haven't seen before. But with the filmmaker's deft touch, the brilliant camerawork of Lubezki, and the performances from the leads, it feels fresh and engrossing. Not for the faint of heart, "The Revenant" is one of the best films of 2015. It rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed December 1, 2015 / Posted January 8, 2016


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