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Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Revenant - A Brutal And Beautiful Saga Of Survival And Revenge

The Revenant (n. One who has returned, as if from the dead.)
After earning Oscar for Birdman, director Alejandro G Iñárritu comes up with another masterpiece, The Revenant, a movie on the legendary American frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass whose gritty survival story is brought to life by the absolutely brilliant performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, excellent direction by Iñárritu and the overall outstanding effort of his crew members. And when I say brought to life I mean it. The movie is executed so flawlessly that it draws the viewers into the torturous ordeal of Glass as he suffers from tremendous violence of wild nature and savagery and malice of fellow-humans to the point of death but returns overcoming untold hardship with an unyielding zeal to survive and extract revenge.

Partly based on Michael Punke's book The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, the story begins with flashback glimpses of the protagonist Hugh Glass' tragic past as he along with his half-native son Hawk (half-Pawnee Indian from mother's side) guides a company of American frontiersmen fur trappers through the icy cold wilderness where they come under sudden attack from a tribe of local natives (Arikara Indians whose chief's daughter has been kidnapped) . A gory battle ensues which leaves three-fourths of the party dead and the rest escape on the boat but abandon it on advice of Glass and start trekking on foot. While alone Glass is severely mauled by a bear, clawed and bitten on chest, neck and back leaving him barely alive. Unable to carry him through difficult terrain, three members are left behind to look after him and give Glass a decent burial when the time comes. The unscrupulous John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) betrays Glass, first trying to suffocate him to death but after being prevented from doing so by Hawk he murders Glass' son and leaves him half buried to die from wounds. But in doing so he inadvertently also gives Glass a strong reason to try to survive and seek revenge.

A severely wounded Glass' journey towards the fort clawing his way through miles of frozen rocks, enduring the biting frost, escaping a tribe of natives as well as a French expedition party, eating roots, live fish and raw bison liver with a gritty determination to survive. All of this could pass as yet another survival movie were it not for the brute realism with which the narrative flows. Well before the movie was released to world audience there were plenty of news stories on Iñárritu making his cast and crew members to shoot in hellish conditions which also led to some his crew members leave the project, the finished work makes it abundantly clear what they may have gone through to complete the filming. Leo in particular seems to have been made to relive some of the sufferings of the legendary figure he portrays. For the major part of the screen time Leo has very little dialogue apart from his groans, grunts and barely audible whispers because of the neck wound his character suffers in the bear attack. He communicates the physical pain and suffering through his facial expressions and body language so powerfully that he  dominates the screen connecting with the audience with his raw performance. After all he has actually endured some of the hardships in real. From shooting in sub-zero temperature to being swept by icy river rapids, having to eat raw bison liver, sleeping inside an animal carcass and crawling through icy and hostile terrain, Leo's harsh experience comes out as an enthralling performance which makes you really feel some of the pain that Glass endures.  I am no movie critic but a blogger who loves cinema and have seen a fair share of it but I can't recall the last time an actor has slipped into a character with such self-torturous and masochistic zeal. If Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't win an Oscar for his role in The Revenant then for me it would be more of a loss for the Academy.

Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald
Having said that, Tom Hardy as the antagonist has been exceptional in his performance too, though I did find it hard to follow his lines. As someone from India I am not sure if it is because of his on screen accent or his dialog delivery but I also found it hard to understand him in The Dark Knight Rises in which he plays the role of Bane. But despite that I found the menacing demeanor he puts on while playing unscrupulous, selfish and downright villainous John Fitzgerald quite chilling and wouldn't be be surprised if he picks up the Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Revenant. Will Poulter playing the young frontiersman Bridges may have fewer lines and less screen time but with his intense expressiveness, he still manages to stand out despite towering presence of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.

Further Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's collaboration post Birdman pays off brilliantly again. The decision to shoot in natural light brings out the cruel but natural beauty of the tundra in strong contrast to the harsh and grueling narrative. After winning Oscars last two consecutive years for Gravity and Birdman, Lubezki might win a third one the manner in which he has captured the spittle flying out of Glass in his agitation, the icy breath fogging the lens and the beautiful sunset with equal brilliance. Even the only CGI scene, that of the grizzly bear mauling Glass is shot in a way so as to bring out the ferocity of the attack rather than focusing on just the visual effect.
Lubezki's breathtaking photography capturing beauty of the hostile wilderness makes the movie more palatable
Finally, the movie seems to convey parallel messages in what is essentially a story one man's grit and determination to survive against all odds and a wronged father's zeal to avenge the death of his son. Interwoven in the plot are elements of violence between man vs wild, man vs man, exploitation of indigenous people by European settlers and also spiritualism as Glass drifts in and out of hallucination of his dead wife, who whispers to him words of encouragement that keeps him going.

"As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe. Keep breathing " [IMDb]

Finally, this harsh and brutal and highly realistically made survival story of Hugh  Glass may not be for everyone, it is more of an visceral experience than a story on celluloid. But it is definitely worth a try for everyone except those very weak of heart. However, if you find the gory realism in the movie pulling you into it and making you uncomfortable, people slaughtering each other without giving much reason and the ending bit ambiguous, remember it's a survival story in a time when as the placard in French put around the neck of the hanged Pawnee Indian says.
"WE ARE ALL SAVAGES" [IMDb]

Rating: 4.5/5



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