Let's just get this out of the way. Yes, THE REVENANT is brutal. And you know what? So is the era it's depicting--the 1820s, when the relationship between white Americans and Native Americans was at its most belligerent. Food (and clothes) came in the form of carcasses, shelter from whatever you could find lying on the ground, and life from whoever or whatever you can kill to sustain it. The film doesn't sugarcoat any of it, which is no surprise given the fact that its maker, writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu, is known for portraying torment to the nth degree.
But I made it out of my screening of THE REVENANT without having any nightmares, despite Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells's ridiculously misogynistic warnings:
"The Revenant" is an unflinchingly brutal, you-are-there, raw-element immersion like something you've never seen. Forget women seeing this.— Hollywood Elsewhere (@wellshwood) November 24, 2015
Somehow my dainty femininity was able to overcome the horror of "inspired by true events," when it's more used to "and they lived happily ever after."
Whatever, screw that guy. Only Gawd can save him now, if the Internet hasn't already eaten him alive. The brutality of THE REVENANT is merely the aesthetics to highlight the emotional impact of the story. Leonardo DiCaprio is certainly put through the ringer as Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who, having been left for the dead after a vicious bear attack leaves him badly mutilated, sets out on a murderous revenge mission to find those who abandoned him. But for much of his journey, DiCaprio is forced to used mostly his face to express Glass's agony, later being able to crawl through the dirt for refuge. Which is typically a challenge for the actor, as he has relied heavily on physical gestures and sometimes even wild pacing to evoke emotion. Here, however, the lack of mobility matures him as a performer. He, along with the audience, are trapped in turmoil that brings us from a soldier of war, to a crippled victim, and ultimate redemption. It's harrowing to watch, for sure, but it is tremendously rewarding to witness such an affecting and physical odyssey.
Another reason to see the film is Tom Hardy, who has never been better as the cunning John Fitzgerald, one of the two men Hugh is after throughout the entire film. If his cocky assuredness and scalped head (courtesy of the Natives) doesn't keep you glued to his performance, his maniacal disposition will clench your attention--down to the slither of one lie after another off his tongue. Even at the start of the film, you realize he is a villain that's going to take the entire 2 and a half hour film for karma to meet him.
Both actors are the standout here, but Iñárritu brings out the best in the entire cast--even Domhnall Gleeson, who I never found very impressive before this. He plays the captain of the bunch, Andrew Henry, with honor and bravery.
But what is most refreshing about THE REVENANT is how it portrays the rapport between whites and Natives. Save for one "white hero" moment in a rape scene, both parties are equally portrayed as ferocious primitives who each have their savior and sinner moments. While the Native storyline isn't as prominent, the characters at least get a voice, a perspective if you will. That's more than most Hollywood movies (though it would be nice if at least every so often a Native character is taking out of this context and leads a Hollywood film, but I digress).
Iñárritu continues move away from his earlier work, which I still prefer, to bring a more Hollywood-digestible tale like this one that blends themes of spirituality, primal instinct and humanity. But he has proven that he can tackle even the most excruciating life stories and turn them into a work of art, with Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography bringing it all together onscreen. They should both be proud of this one.
Rating: A (**** out of *****)
THE REVENANT opens in select theaters December 25, and nationwide on January 8.