The Revenant

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THE REVENANT, his­tor­i­cal drama, rated R; in English, French, Pawnee, and Arikara with some sub­ti­tles; Re­gal Sta­dium 14, Vi­o­let Crown, and Dream­Catcher; 2.5 chiles

The ad­ven­tures of Hugh Glass, one of the leg­endary moun­tain men of the Amer­i­can fron­tier, make for spell­bind­ing sto­ry­telling. Whether they make a spell­bind­ing movie is likely to be found in the eye of the be­holder. The facts of this tale are grisly, and Ale­jan­dro G. Iñár­ritu (last year’s Os­car-win­ner with Bird­man) hews closely to them. Glass, a trap­per and scout with a mil­i­tary ex­pe­di­tion in 1823, was at­tacked and hor­ri­bly mauled by a bear. It seemed im­pos­si­ble that he could live. How­ever, he wasn’t dead yet, so his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer got a couple of vol­un­teers, John Fitzger­ald and nine­teen-year-old Jim Bridger, to stay with him and give him a de­cent burial, while the rest of the party moved on, anx­ious to get be­yond hos­tile In­dian ter­ri­tory. But the ornery old cuss re­fused to die, and af­ter a few days Fitzger­ald de­cided enough was enough. Leav­ing Glass to the in­evitable, he and Bridger took his ri­fle and pos­ses­sions, and caught up to their unit, telling the com­man­der that he was dead.

In­cred­i­bly, Glass sur­vived, and as up­per-body strength re­turned to him, he dragged him­self painfully, crawl­ing and grunt­ing in agony with ghastly wounds and a bro­ken leg, scav­eng­ing roots and berries and oc­ca­sional meat and mar­row from aban­doned car­casses. With mind-bog­gling en­durance and re­venge-driven pur­pose, he made it back to civ­i­liza­tion and set out to find the two men who had left him to die.

All of this is his­tor­i­cally doc­u­mented, more or less, and Iñár­ritu tells the tale with ad­mirable fidelity. A man be­ing at­tacked by a bear is riv­et­ing cin­ema; a man drag­ging him­self over hun­dreds of miles of frozen land­scape is not. The di­a­logue, if you want to call it that, is mostly gut­tural grunts and groans, aug­mented with a few words in English, a few more in French, and the rest in Pawnee and Arikara. The movie throws in a few ex­tra story el­e­ments, like a Pawnee wife and teenage son, and an Arikara chief whose daugh­ter has been kid­napped, and it moves the set­ting from sum­mer to the dead of win­ter, the bet­ter to frame the suf­fer­ing. Iñár­ritu and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Em­manuel Lubezki also salt the footage with end­less up­ward shots of tow­er­ing pines to il­lus­trate a sym­bol about a tree with a strong trunk sur­viv­ing even when its up­per branches are buf­feted by strong winds.

Leonardo DiCaprio in­hab­its the char­ac­ter and the suf­fer­ing of Glass with fe­ro­cious tenac­ity, and from what one hears, he de­serves an Os­car for en­dur­ing and sur­viv­ing ex­ces­sive di­rec­to­rial zeal for real­ism. Will Poul­ter’s youth­ful Bridger is the vic­tim of an evil com­pan­ion, and the fact that he lived to be­come a leg­endary moun­tain man him­self, and grace a postage stamp, sug­gests how things turned out for him. The evil com­pan­ion, Fitzger­ald, is gruffly played by Tom Hardy, whose growled ut­ter­ances are scarcely more in­tel­li­gi­ble than Glass’ grunts, and whose fate is played out. Best of the bunch is Domh­nall Glee­son’s Capt. An­drew Henry, the ex­pe­di­tion’s hon­or­able com­man­der.

When he’s not in­fat­u­ated with that up­ward tree shot, Lubezki’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy is darkly beau­ti­ful, sel­dom il­lu­mi­nated by sun­shine. The maul­ing of Glass by the mother griz­zly high­lights a raft of im­pres­sive vis­ual ef­fects. The story of Hugh Glass is a tes­ta­ment to man’s ca­pac­ity for en­durance. For bet­ter or for worse, so is the movie. — Jonathan Richards


Cold moun­tain man: Leonardo DiCaprio

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