In brief, The Revenant is what The Hateful Eight promised to be: the toughest Western since True Grit, complete with awe-inducing snowscapes; it’s dazzling to see such magnificent desolation prevail in a crowded world. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inárritu based The Revenant on the legend of Hugh Glass, previously told in 1971’s Man in the Wilderness, with Richard Harris commencing his series of frontier-ordeal movies.
Inárritu sets his violent epic in the midst of the fur trade on the upper Missouri River in the 1820s—the result of a bubble in the price of beaver hides. Rival groups of Europeans denude the forest of its creatures, while holding off the understandably furious Arikara Indians. Scouting for a party of trappers, Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a bear and left for dead by his companions. Despite severe wounds and a broken leg, Glass fights his way back to civilization, in this version to confront the man—Fitzgerald (played by the ever-impressive Tom Hardy)—who abandoned him.
What doesn’t happen to DiCaprio’s Glass in this sprawling, snowy saga (set in the Dakotas, but filmed in locations from Tierra del Fuego to British Columbia)? Indian attacks, blizzards, and the money scene from Jack London’s “To Build A Fire.” A fall off a cliff, a tumble down freezing river rapids, a cauterization that tops the one in Two Mules for Sister Sara, Gollum-style meals of raw fish and the most vicious bear attack ever filmed for a fictional movie, wrought by a sow grizzly protecting her cubs.
As evidenced in his various melodramas—including Babel to Biutiful—Inárritu would seem to be a stranger to the word “enough.” (Still, the plethora of events includes an intelligent subplot: a chief and some of his companions searching for a kidnapped girl, as if in an inversion of John Ford’s The Searchers.) Within the extremities and occasional nonsense in The Revenant is a superb blood-and-guts Western, positively bubbling over with shock and sweeping visual scope.
Hardy’s Fitzgerald—he’s been cracked since he was scalped (“I got my head turned inside out”)—proves that a Western is better when you can see an antagonist’s point. Glass certainly appeared to be dead before his partner decided to split. Hitting age 40, a never-tougher DiCaprio makes you tend to believe this story of hellish endurance
R; 156 Mins.