The Revenant probably isn’t the best date night movie out there, but it is a movie that you have to see in a theatre if you are going to see it at all. This is one film that is designed for a big screen and a high-end sound system. I can’t imagine that watching it on a TV screen, even the largest at-home unit, would provide anything even remotely close to the power of the movie in a theatre.
And make no mistake about it: The Revenant is an extremely powerful sensory experience. It tells a story of a frontiersman, Hugh Glass, in the wilderness in the 1820s. The wilderness itself is a key, Jekyll-and Hyde character in the film. You are entranced by its beauty — the towering trees, the magnificent snow-covered landscapes, the rocky mountainous crags, and the rushing, foaming rapids, all of which are beautifully framed and photographed — and suddenly the snowy white wilderness becomes a rumbling, snarling, blood-spattered horror show of bear maulings and Native American attacks and desperate attempts to survive at all costs.
We learn from flashbacks that Glass married a Native American, had a son, and then saw his wife killed in an attack on their village. After a trapping party for which he serves as guide is decimated by a Native American attack, Glass and his son and the remainder of the trappers escape. As they make their way back to their fort, Glass is badly mauled by a bear and desperately injured. The main party moves on, but Glass’ son Hawk and two other trappers remain behind with him. One trapper, Fitzgerald, decides that staying with Glass is simply too dangerous and that Glass will die, anyway, so he kills Hawk as the other trapper is away, while Glass is too injured to do anything about it, and then convinces the other trapper to leave Glass behind. The rest of the movie is about Glass’ relentless effort to overcome his devastating injuries and countless obstacles, find food, and survive to find Fitzgerald and avenge his son.
Leonardo diCaprio is wholly convincing as Glass. He attacks, with gusto, a role in which he is clawed and bitten by a bear, gratefully eats raw fish and raw liver for sustenance, sleeps naked in the hollowed out carcass of a horse to survive a blizzard, and receives countless injuries. It’s as good a piece of physical acting as you’re going to see, and diCaprio deserves his Oscar nomination. Tom Hardy is also exceptional as John Fitzgerald, the trapper frontiersman who just wants to get paid and go to a place like Texas that isn’t an ice-cold death trap. Both Glass and Fitzgerald are subject to their own survival instincts, which inevitably make them adversaries who must fight to the death. Their story is told against the backdrop of a larger tragic drama in which rapacious white men are moving into the lands of the indigenous peoples, and the performances of the many Native Americans in the film also are compelling.
One final point — the movie is a triumph of cinematography. From its extreme close-ups even during violent, knife-wielding fight scenes, to the brilliantly staged and brutally realistic bear attack, to the jaw-dropping scene where the camera follows Glass and his horse as they plunge over a cliff onto the top of a huge evergreen tree below, The Revenant will make you think long and hard about the wonders of cinematography and the art of filmmaking. I don’t know enough about how duties are apportioned on a moviemaking crew to properly give credit to the right people, but whoever brought the many mind-boggling scenes to the big screen — from director Alejandro Inarritu to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to the producers, camera crew, and key grips — deserves a lifetime achievement award.