Based on a True Story (sort of)
MovieMike - wrote on 01/09/16
Revenant - noun rev·e·nant : one that returns after death or a long absence
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (’21 Grams’, ‘Birdman’), ‘The Revenant’ is based on a fictionalized novel of the same name (written by Michael Punke) about a real frontiersman named Hugh Glass. Glass had signed on with a fur trapping expedition that traveled to the upper reaches of the Missouri River (present day Perkins County, South Dakota) in 1823. After being mauled by a bear, Glass is left for dead by a couple of men from his party. He survives his wounds and manages to work his way back to a fortification, despite his condition and the fact that his weapons and provisions were taken by the two men assigned to watch over him.
As a film, ‘The Revenant’ is compelling to watch and the story is nearly overtaken by the breathtaking scenery. Iñárritu’s use of close in shots gives the viewer a unique perspective in most of the scenes, making you feel as if you were standing right beside the principal character in any given shot. He also employs a number of long drawn out takes of things like clouds passing over a ridge or following the ripples of a stream. While some of these may feel a bit self-indulgent on the Director’s part, the net effect of this seems to be aimed at making the audience feel immersed in the environment – and it works (or at least it did for me). There are a number of action shots that are nothing short of amazing and the running time of 156 minutes seems to fly by.
The performance that Leonardo DiCaprio delivers, as Glass, is deserving of the Oscar buzz currently swirling around. I can’t imagine the effort some of his more grueling scenes would have taken. The other main character, John Fitzgerald, is played by Tom Hardy, who is equally grizzled and menacing. The story as presented, weaves the paths of multiple groups in and out of the narrative; eventually intersecting in the conclusion. Parts of the film reminded me of ‘The Black Robe’ (1991), or ‘The Last Of The Mohicans’ (1992).
Without giving away any spoilers, I did have a problem with some of the logic in the story line as presented. For instance, as part of the story, the expedition is looking to cross a mountain range as a shortcut to their destination. In one of the scenes, we see the group reaching a summit, with no obvious way to proceed over. Logically, if trying to cross any mountain range, it isn’t necessary to climb every peak, you simply look for passes that lead in the desired direction – but I guess that doesn’t make for enough dramatic camera shots.
This fictionalized version of the story gives us a character (Glass) who has a son who is American Indian, and paints this tale as a story of revenge. We get some of Hugh’s back-story through dreams and visions his character experiences. In the real-world version of events, Glass has no son; the events take place in August (not during the winter); and it takes Glass six weeks to get back to some form of civilization. While Glass did actually seek out the two men who abandoned him, he never killed them, he simply wanted his stuff back. I was imagining the possible psychological effect on these two men, coming face-to-face with the very man they had left for dead, would be punishment enough. I think, given the right treatment, the factual story may have played out better. Much like the recent film, ‘In The Heart Of The Sea’, film makers and screenplay writers can never seem to resist embellishing a story; most likely in hopes of bolstering reviews and audience reception.
Despite these personal misgivings, the film is still worthy of your time, especially if you have any appreciation for history, or outdoor experiences. I do a bit of back-country snowshoeing and recognized a number of sights and sounds from the film that I get to experience when spending time in the woods and mountains. Fortunately, I’m not fighting off bears and Indians.