The Revenant tells the story of a legendary explorer (Hugh Glass) who is mauled by an animal and subsequently left for dead by his travelling party. The inhospitable setting is in the hostile wilderness surrounding the Upper Missouri River in the United States. If this movie had followed the true story of Hugh Glass, while fascinating in moments, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as engaging. It would have been something like a feature length Bear Grylls episode. This is a tough movie to write about for a couple of reasons but mainly because it is a genre-hopper and overlaps somewhere between a buddy/quest film (without the friend or the humour), a western and a revenge tome. There’s no film I can draw reference to as being directly like this movie in my memory: it’s truly parts Dead Man, parts Cannibal the Musical, parts Dances With Wolves.
For context, the story follows Hugh Glass through his part in General Ashley’s expedition as part of what later became known as the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. The expedition strikes trouble and Glass, an able explorer and woodsman has to lead his party back to the safety of Fort Kiowa through a bitter winter landscape and land held by hostile Native Americans. Their is some backstory to how Glass ended up in the service of the unit but exactly what his status with the outfit is a little unclear, I don’t think it’s ever firmly established if he is an ex-prisoner forced into compulsory service or a man of vast experience who just happens to be the right man for the job. Either way it is a little hazy. In this film version Glass has a son Hawk who is also is travelling with the party and his Native American links seem offer a clue to Glass’s understanding of the land and ability to navigate and operate so well in the natural world. We quickly learn that the honour of the Glass’s unit is like that of thieves. It’s evident that becoming badly wounded and stranded in the wilderness are not the only obstacles Glass will have to overcome.
The film is really breathtaking in its photography and engaging for its length. You can’t look away once you’ve made the investment of starting it. I love the themes of the the aboriginal spirituality from the Native American culture and references to the supernatural and natural elements of our history of a species that we are fast becoming more and more disconnected from. Leonardo DiCaprio does a great job in crafting the character of glass, I don’t see him getting an oscar for this performance though as so much of his screen time is alone which makes it hard to see his full range of qualities. Tom Hardy is excellent as well, at this point I would go and see anything that has him in it. He can do no wrong with films and the moment and transforms himself so completely between roles.
Final verdict: Must watch