Sunday, February 21, 2016

THE REVENANT (2015): Story of Revenge

The Revenant, the 156-minute thriller directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, is both exciting and disappointing.   Its attributes include its non-stop action from beginning to end; the physically grueling acting display put on by both Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy; possibly the most visually impressive film I have ever seen beautifully using the backdrop of the mountains throughout; and an overall simple story that’s almost refreshing when one thinks about all of the botched scripts coming out of Hollywood.

By itself, this of course does not make for a great movie.  And unfortunately, the moviemakers fail to provide us with anything else to turn this from an interesting movie-going experience into something special.  The movie is too long, relies far too much upon violence to pull moviegoers in, and turns an otherwise intriguing film into a revenge story – with the revenge element being the least interesting portion of the entire movie.

Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a tremendous frontiersman and explorer, guides a group of hunters besieged by hostile Arikara Indians.  Between battles with the tribe, Glass gets himself mauled by a bear during a remarkably choreographed scene.  Two members of the hunting party and Glass’ Native America son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) remain behind with the intent of carrying the badly injured Glass to safety.  One of the members is the young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) on one of the first of his many explorations of the west.  The other is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a capable and extremely unscrupulous man who already has had run-ins with Glass.  Eventually Fitzgerald kills Hawk and cajoles Bridger into leaving Glass behind.

Assuming that Glass could never survive on his own, Fitzgerald and Bridger eventually make their way back to a military fort.  In the meantime, Glass not only survives his wounds, he also is able to evade the Arikaras and to even rescue the daughter of an Arikara chief from a group of Frenchmen.  When Glass shows up at the military fort, Fitzgerald disappears.  Bridger then confesses to the commanding officer the truth about the abandonment of Glass.  Though Glass is still recovering from his wounds, he pursues Fitzgerald.  When he finds Fitzgerald, a tremendous knife fight breaks out.  While stabbed in the knife fight, Glass still is able to deliver Fitzgerald to his death at the hands of the Arikara chief whose daughter Glass had rescued.  Glass then presumably dies because of his wounds.

The storyline seems to borrow from the plotline in Jack London’s gripping short story, “Love of Life.”  The story also bases itself upon a novel regarding the real life exploits of explorer, Hugh Glass, who was the victim of a bear mauling.  There are a few major differences, however, between the movie and the real life adventure (1) the real Hugh Glass survived for several years after the incident in question; (2) Glass never had a son who died at the hands of Fitzgerald; and (3), Glass forgave the real life Jim Bridger, who was an extremely young man at the time, and Fitzgerald who was a soldier by the time Glass finally caught up with him.

Besides trying to push fiction off as fact, another problem with this film changing the narrative is that the real life story is more intriguing than the one we see on the movie screen.  Regarding the real life story, we ask ourselves why Glass would forgive the two.  Though trying this question out as a plot device will not draw in an audience who would rather see a twenty-minute knife fight, it would give the audience more to ponder upon at the end of the film.  In any case, we can’t call a movie great when the story upon which we base the film is more compelling than what we see in the movie theater.

The Revenant probably will receive awards during next week’s Academy Awards, and it certainly would not be the worst choice ever made if it won an Oscar for Best Picture.  However, if I was on the committee to choose the best picture and if I really cared who won the award to begin with, I would choose Steve Jobs over The Revenant.  While nowhere near as riveting to watch, Steve Jobs tells a better story than The Revenant.

February 21, 2016
©  Robert S. Miller 2016