In 2014, the dude who made Babel, Alejandro Iñárritu, reunited Michael Keaton with his most iconic role as Batman in the fantastic Birdman. Now he’s remade another 80’s classic, The Terminator, with Leonardo DiCaprio assuming the role as the unstoppable killing machine. Only this time instead of being set in the present it’s set in the past. And he’s not actually called the Terminator. He’s now The Revenant. But he has the same amount of lines as Arnie did, and he fights a bear, so it’s all gravy.
It’s 1823, North America – Cowboys and Indians time. But we’re not in the desert. Instead it’s cold and there’s snow everywhere. Imagine a sequel to Dances with Wolves, except Kevin Costner has been replaced with Leonardo DiCaprio, and he’s now called Hugh Glass. He’s gone AWOL from the military to learn the mystic ways of the natives and ends up falling in love and having a child. Sadly, his Native American missus gets murdered by a solider and his wolves leave him to a tormented life of guilt and sorrow.
Years later, Glass and his son Hawk (Forest Goodluck), now in those awkward teenage years, are leading a trapping expedition deep into the woods using their crazy One-With-Nature powers. While they’re out killing deer, the encampment is attacked and routed by a rampaging warband of Arikara natives. They’ve been rolling around the countryside looking for trouble seeking the Wide-Eye who stole the chief’s daughter.
Many of the American’s are brutally arrowed, axed, and maimed as they attempt to flee with everything they can carry (namely pelts, their bloodied companions etc). Glass emerges in the thick of it, brutalizes a few of the ambushing natives, and escapes aboard a boat with his lad and about 15 others.
It’s all done is progressively longer and longer takes. It really puts you into the movie. Lots of close ups, lots of movement, lots of “where the hell did that tomahawk come from”. I’m amazed they didn’t make it in 3D (they probably couldn’t get the camera’s up the mountain), with arrows and blood and fire flying around, it would have looked great. We stumble from one scene of brutality to the next, one man getting scalped, another tending his dying mate, another shotgunning a horse. It’s madness. Gloriously shot madness.
The expedition leader, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhall Gleeson – Star Wars: The Forces Awakens) is with them and turns to Glass for advice. He suggests they land, and make their way home on foot (millions of miles away over mountains and crevasses and other horrific crap). But terminal moaner John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy – Star Trek Nemesis) disagrees. He blames Glass for alerting the natives by shooting those deer. He also suggests that he may even be league with the Natives, you know, because his son is Half-Indian and so forth.
The Captain is a good due though, and listens to Glass. That doesn’t stop a bunch of stupid bastards who continue downstream on the boat. You’ll be relieved to know that they’re all caught by the Arikara and killed. Sadly, Fitzgerald doesn’t know this and spends the next few weeks crying about how they should have stayed on the boat etc.
To be fair to him, he’s pretty justified in being a little wary of the Natives – he was scalped as a younger man, and by the way he tells it, it fucking hurt. Still, he’s like Hudson in Aliens, always complaining and not getting on with things like everyone else.
Like a common dude trying to escape the old ball and chain for a few precious hours, Glass heads out one morning, alone, to do some trail blazing. Instead of finding a path to safety, he falls upon some little cute bear cubs. But Glass ain’t no fool. He knows that where there’s cubs there’s a Mama bear too. He isn’t smart enough to know that she’s right behind him though, Freddy Kruegar style. She mauls Glass not once, not twice, but three times. He get’s off a shot from his gun in the second round, then rides it out before she dies of bloodloss. But he’s not walking away from this one.
It’s a pretty grim scene. We’ve already seen a whole manner of horrific stuff happen already with the raid at the encampment, but this is our main man being tossed around like a rag-doll. While he does emerge victorious, it’s not like a Marvel movie where Captain America is shot in the arm, but still manages to win the day. Glass get’s messed up, and is lucky to survive the initial barrage of claws and teeth. His head is nearly crushed, his arm broken, back gouged, neck ripped open. He’s like Murphy before being made into Robocop – just a hunk of bleeding meat.
I’d suspect most of us sort of knew what was going to happen from the trailer, but it still doesn’t really prepare you for the brutality of the attack. The bear is CGI, and you know it is, but they’ve really nailed the behaviour of the beast. First it’s all “WTF YOU DOIN WITH MA KIDS”. Then, it gets out of breath a bit, buggers off to check on the cubs, then returns again to finish the job. Like before, it’s all one nasty long take.
The rest of the group find him some time later. Barely alive, he’s bleeding everywhere. The Captain, with limited experience in these things, stitches him up as best he can. They even make a stretcher and carry him out. The going is too tough though, and Glass is fading quick. There’s no hope of them getting up mountains and evading the natives while carrying a dying man. It doesn’t help either that for the whole damn journey Fitzgerald is grumbling about the situation, though he does kindly offer to finish Glass off nice and peacefully.
Eventually, they can’t progress any further. The Captain offers $100 to anyone who’ll stay with Glass until the end, and then see to the burial. Fitzgerald, having lost money on all the pelts they’ve had to abandon, accepts, along with young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter – Maze Runner). Hawk is naturally gonna stay too. Now, Fitzgerald has been trying to dump Glass for the entire film, so the Captain makes a bit of an error by believing Fitz will do the right thing. But I guess it’s one of those tough executive decision, the good of the many versus the good of the one type deals.
Plus, I think the Captain wants to live just that tiny bit more than he wants to be the good guy. He’s lost a lot of men, and he can’t let the entire party die just because of one guy. The moment they’re all gone though, Fitzgerald is cutting deals with Glass. He’ll kill him quick and painless if he wants. All he has to do is blink his eyes to agree. Pretty tough terms, dude. SPOILERS Fitzgerald ends up killing Hawk, tricking Bridger into thinking the Arikara are coming, and burying a still breathing Glass in a shallow grave.
But Glass doesn’t die. He crawls out from the dirt, and mourns his dead son. “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you soon”. Yet death doesn’t come for Glass. Afterall, he’s the revenant, and there’s terrible, terrible revenge to be had.
We’re about 30 minutes in by now, and I’d say the next 90 minutes or so are Glass slowly recovering and crawling after Fitzgerald. Along the way he uses some really cool survival techniques, like fishing using rocks, and sealing the wound in his throat using gun-powder. That’s a trick he learned from Rambo 3, surely. Another curious reference is to the Empire Strikes Back – after jumping a horse off a cliff to escape some natives, the freezing Glass guts the remains of the animal, and sleeps in it’s warm belly. I won’t bore you with the obvious “being reborn” metaphor that this represents when he re-emerges the next day.
He eventually returns to civilization, though Fitzegerald has done a runner again, this time with all the unpaid wages for the soldiers. But Glass absolutely will not stop, ever, until he’s dead.
The final fight is as gut-wrenching as the rest of the film. There’s no martial arts. No Jiu-Jitsu or spinning enziguri kicks. There’s lots of tussling, axe versus knife action. Fingers get chopped off, blades get plunged into body parts that make you tense up and go “eeeeeeee”, and Fitzgerald is trying to cut deals right until the end. The bastard even has the nerve to say “well you got me, but it ain’t gonna bring your boy back”. What a dick.
Back in the day – I’m talking the Titanic-Era, I hated little Leo. Consider that I, also a teenager, was doing my best to get my end away with all the same young bitches who were lusting over DiCaprio, it’s only natural that I despised him. “He’s so lovely”, they’d droll. “He’s a blonde, flicky-haired effeminate gimp”. I jealously couldn’t stand him. Not only was he rich, successful, handsome, but he’s also named after the coolest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. No, I certainly couldn’t begin to appreciate that he actually might be kind of talented.
Thankfully for me, he pretty much disappeared for a while after Titanic. IMDB tells me he made a few films like The Beach and The Man In The Iron Mask, but these were largely rubbish. Plus, he looked retarded with long hair in TMITIM and was kind of a prick in The Beach. He wasn’t making anyone wet during these dark days.
I only really noticed him again in 2002, first with the awesome (and as my mate Binder will describe, his best ever role) Catch Me If You Can. He was still playing on his boyish looks, but the film itself was really fun. A true story about a 15 year old kid who becomes the biggest fraudster and forgery maestro of all time. There’s even a bit where he uses a dodgy check to pay for one of those $500-a-night hookers, and she gives him change – so it’s like she’s actually paying to sleep with him! Ha ha! Dynamite move Leo, I approve.
But it was his turn as Amsterdam in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York that I started to realize that my hate was slightly unfounded. Here he is, scarred up, accented, looking a bit dirty. Trading knife blows with the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his own best incarnations, Leo had come of age. The Badass Era of DiCaprio had begun.
Since then he’s done a whole load of cool stuff like The Wolf of Wall Street, Inception, Shutter Island, and took a turn as the prized prick in Tarantino’s Django Unchained. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a film he’s made in recent memory that was, as my friend Stew would say, “Fucking gash”. He’s been in nothing but major mega-movies with some of the most legendary filmmakers of all time.
Yet he remains Oscar-less.
I’m sure you’re aware of all the various amusing memes and images about Leo not winning the most coveted film award year after year. If not, go here to have a look. The directors of his films have all won Oscars. So did his co-stars, producers, make-up people, probably even the Best Boy (wtfever he is) have all won an Oscar on DiCaprio movies. So, will The Revenant change all that? Is this the year? I was pretty sure it would be in my preview post, but now after actually seeing it, my feelings have changed a bit.
It’s evident from all of the reports and the film itself that it was a pretty miserable experience making The Revenant. DiCaprio has even stated that it was the most demanding experience of his life, and that he was constantly close to hyperthermia. That bison liver he eats raw? That was real. As was the vomit that follows it. Like Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator, he also had to undergo extensive makeup for whenever we had to look at his mangled bod.
But does breaking your ass physically mean you deserve an Oscar? No, I don’t think it does. Surely, if getting messed up is the key to awards glory, the Jackass movies would have won more prestigious awards beyond the “Most Pointless” and “Biggest Dickhead” titles. No, to me, acting is basically the idea that you’re pretending to be someone you’re not.
Sure, De Niro learned to box, got super shredded then super fat for Raging Bull. Yet beyond that grueling physicality, De Niro’s became Jake La Motta via his acting. Via his voice, his mannerisms, the way he moved. He was no longer Rober De Niro pretending to be Jake La Motta on screen. He was Jake La Motta.
DiCaprio suffers a whole load of shit in The Revenant. He’s totally lost the dreamy appeal that held sway other many women from his earlier days. His hair is greasy, his teeth are yellow. He’s like Heath Ledger’s Joker without the make-up. You can almost smell him. But you never really forget that it’s Leonardo DiCaprio. You never really think, “this is Hugh Glass, action man”.
I’ll tell you who does inhabit their character though – Tom Hardy. It’s kind of par for the course that he uses a weird, barely-understandable accent in each of his films. He’s like a tough Johnny Depp. But here, he is John Fitzgerald – trapper and general bastard. For another easy-on-the-eye kind of guy, he looks like shit in The Revenent. He’s been scalped, he has a dodgy tash, he’s probably got piss all over his pants, and is generally pretty loathsome. I’ll probably explore why he’s so much a bastard in a future article, but what I will say is that he gives the better performance than DiCaprio.
But, you know what, I’m gonna give Leo a pass on this one – he deserves the Oscar. If anything, it’s for the high consistency of work over a long career. Just like Martin Scorsese got one as a kind of sympathy prize for The Departed (hell, I love that movie, but Raging Bull is the mans’ masterpiece), DiCaprio has earned it this time around too. While they’re at it, pass one Tom Hardy’s way as well. And don’t forget those guys who did all the blood/gore effects too. They’re the true untold legends of The Revenant.
There’s a load of other stuff going on in this movie like the French trading party, the friendly Pawnwee dude or the “Ultimate Evil” Native war party, as the Coen brothers would call them. Though speaking of them, I got the feeling that they were looking for Glass specifically. Like his dead wife was the woman the chief kept talking about. I also wondered when one of them was going to say “boss, you’re daughter is like gone man”. Regardless, they did act as a convenient mechanic to keep everything moving.
Everything is pretty miserable and cold looking. Even when we’re flashing back to Glass’s time with his wife, it all looks dirty and caked in crap. The haven that everyone is trying to return to looks worse than a medieval castle. Truly it was a hard time to be alive, but you sometimes get the feeling that you’re being manipulated by the film-makers into thinking that it’s worse than it probably was. There’s no happiness, no levity, only fleeting moments of relief tempered with longer periods of misery and pain. I imagine it’s like being a fan of a rubbish sports team, only magnified in intensity a thousand-fold.
Lots has been made about this being based on a true story too. However, the character of his son was added to the film, most likely to give Glass a real reason to want to kill Fitzgerald. In reality, he tracked down both Bridger and Fitzgerald, and let them both live. He did reclaim his badass rifle though.
Equally, there’s been loads of talk about how it was an horrendous experience to make, and how loads of people quit the movie, and so fourth. I recently watched the Making of The Hobbit, and it’s a bit disarming to see Peter Jackson sitting on a couch in a studio filming everything in green screen. I greatly appreciate the fact that Iñárritu filmed largely on location, and in sequence. But just because people had a bad time, doesn’t necessarily make it a good film. Thankfully in this case, all that suffering really made it worth it, and The Revenant is a special kind of movie that is very much set apart from all the endlessly glossy and safe Hollywood porridge that gets churned out every day.
In closing, it’s a dark, gritty, slow-burn of a movie. And like someone holding a match to your finger, it’s pretty painful to watch the longer it goes on. You can smell the burning flesh, hear the cracking skin, and you know it’s going to hurt in the morning.
This is certainly film-making with the safety off. Brutal, with a little bit of arty symbolism thrown in, it’s also beautiful and vast in it’s presentation. The long takes have been trimmed a bit from Iñárritu’s run on Birdman, but they’re still long enough to convincingly portray a grim and hard world where life was worth the price of a pelt, and the Natives still stripped the skin from people’s scalps. Plus, all that Bear Grylls shit is really cool as well.
Get it watched.