The Revenant makes the guys in The Grey look like weenies, and those were some tough dudes! It’s intense as hell, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s most grizzled performance of his career.
Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is leading a company of pioneer explorers when he is mauled by a bear. His men do their best to bring his wounded body home, except for John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who manipulates the team into leaving Glass behind, where Fitzgerald sages his death and kills Glass’s son. But Hugh Glass is hard to kill! That should be the name of the movie!
Combat between Glass’s company and Native American tribes is brutal in long takes, not as long as Birdman but long enough to impress with a lot of staged action before the lens. It shows that guns aren’t much help against skilled archers.
The bear attack is CGI, because how else are you going to have a bear maul Leonardo DiCaprio? You can tell because the bear jostles like CGI jostles, but it’s a good, graphic attack, probably the most realistic bear attack ever put on screen without Werner Herzog filming an actual bear mauling.
It’s a winter western with all the dangers of the expansive country and outlaws on the prowl laid before Glass. It’s man vs. man and man vs. nature, with all the gratifying self-preservation scenes. The photography makes us feel the perspective, and the Atmos sound design puts us in the wilderness. Smellovision would be the only way to bring us in more. The rotting animal carcasses and body odor would be a doozy.
The bear gets Glass’s throat so DiCpario can’t talk for most of the movie, but he’s completely expressive. He’s mostly expressing pain and anger but the degrees of pain, fear and anger are evocative.
I get the comparisons to Terrence Malick. The camera is pointed up at the trees and moves fluidly, but it’s not the editing or sound design of Malick. The story is linear, and the sound is in your face, with the sparse dialogue spoken audibly or subtitled to make sure it’s clear. Malick would distort it to make it dream-like. Glass has a few delusions/visions/memories but it’s clear what they represent.
Inarritu’s first four films seemed to use all his techniques to make the audience feel sad. Now it seems he may be having more fun, or at least saying different things. Birdman had a lot to say but in a peppy, satirical way. The Revenant may be intense but it is a rousing adventure, just playing up the desperation of it as it has every right to.