Sunday, April 17, 2016

Video review: "The Revenant"

In my original review of “The Revenant” I predicted it would be a love-it-or-hate-it film, and I was even more right than I knew. People who had a year earlier divided by Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman” quickly chose up sides again, mostly falling into the same camps.

But I switched teams. I thought Iñárritu’s direction mostly showed restraint, using roving cameras and other cinematic tricks largely in service to the story, rather than for their own sake. (As was the case with the overwrought “Birdman.”)

Leonardo DiCaprio deservedly won his first Oscar for his near-wordless portrayal of Hugh Glass, a real 18th-century scout who was mauled by a bear and left for dead by his companions. In their defense, the party was deep in the wilderness and many of them had just been killed in an attack by American Indians, and were still being chased.

Glass spends weeks dragging his maimed body through a barren frozen wasteland, with death waiting at nearly every turn. The film has a spare, harsh beauty to it that’s undeniable.

Tom Hardy is a brooding presence as John Fitzgerald, a Machiavellian member of the group who advocates leaving Glass behind to die, but then volunteers when a large bounty is offered to guard him. Of course, his intentions are less than pure.

I also liked Forrest Goodluck, a novice actor who plays Glass’ half-Indian son. He doesn’t say a lot, but his face conveys much without words.

Based on the “historical novel” by Michael Punke, “The Revenant” can be tough to watch. The bear attack itself, done mostly with CGI, is a technical marvel. The real gruesomeness, though, comes in watching a man who’s literally been torn apart struggle and refuse to die.

It’s a grim existential journey worth the investment of 2½ hours of your time.

Bonus features are disappointingly scanty. The blu-ray comes with a making-of documentary, “A World Unseen” – and that’s it.



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