Monthly Archives: February 2016

Film review – The Revenant

Main cast

Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass

Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald

Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry

Will Poulter as Jim Bridger,

Forrest Goodluck as Hawk, Glass’s son

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Robert Henderson

The Revenant is a tremendous disappointment . Like so many modern  films it substitutes a catalogue of frequent action for character development and condemns the plot to a distinctly mechanical unfolding of one damn thing after another  as the protagonist Hugh Glass  (DiCaprio) survives the hostility of the environment, Indians, some of the men he works with and most spectacularly an encounter with a grizzly bear.

The  year is 1823. A band  of trappers  by  Captain Andrew Henry  (Domhnall Gleeson) are in what is now the Dakotas and what was then  a still wild and largely unsettled (by whites)  part of the Louisiana Purchase, populated by  Indian tribes who varied from the friendly to the warlike.  Glass is the most experienced trapper and   knows the territory best.  His half Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck)  is also a member of the hunting party.

The trappers  are attacked by a band of Arikara Indians who  are armed with bows and arrows. But this being  the age of  the single shot muzzle loading muskets and pistols the trappers do not have an overwhelming superiority  in weaponry. They  suffer heavy losses and retreat from the fight by  boat down a river.   After making their escape Glass  persuades Henry that the party must come off the river and make their way back to the trading post overland.   This decision does not go down well with some of the remaining trappers including John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

Glass is then mauled by a grisly bear which leaves him  unable to walk or speak and seemingly on the verge of death.   After carrying him on a makeshift  stretcher  it becomes apparent that they cannot take him with them. Glass ‘s condition also worsens.  Eventually Andrew Henry  accepts that Glass will die but wants him to have a decent burial so asks for two  men   to remain behind and bury Glass properly. Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter)  agree to undertake the task for  additional pay.  Hawk  also stays.

Bridger leaves Fitzgerald alone with Glass. He persuades Glass  to signal by blinking that he wants Fitzgerald to put him out of his misery. Glass  blinks and Fitzgerald begins to suffocate him. Hawk  catches Fitzgerald in the act  and Fitzgerald kills him in a struggle. Bridger then returns before Fitzgerald can kill Glass. Fitzgerald  lies that he has seen a band of Arikara  Indians nearby and persuades Bridger to flee the scene leaving Glass to die. The pair then head for Fort Kiowa. On their  way Bridger discovers that Fitzgerald not seen any Arikara and gets a bad conscience. When they reach the  fort Fitzgerald lies about Glass dying and being given a decent burial. Bridger doesn’t like it but keeps mum.

As for Glass he does not die and gradually recovers both his mobility and voice. He then engages in  a wildly improbable journey to Fort Kiowa most of which  he conducts at first by crawling, then by  staggering with  the aid of a rough staff.   Most of the  action takes place in a wintery snow filled landscape. Yet not only does Glass survive the cold on land, he has several episodes when he is in what must have been water which was close to freezing . Yet DiCaprio is frequently seen in water which must have been icecold. In one scene he is swept away by the current of a fast flowing river encumbered with a heavy fur poncho-style garment  which is his own real guard against the cold. In real life Glass  would  have  rapidly died from hypothermia.

There is also no consistency in the extent of Glass’ supposed disability following the grizzly mauling. There is one scene which is truly absurd when Glass having been moving slowly with the aid of a staff suddenly regains the full use of his legs and runs.

These types  of wildly  improbable events would not matter in a fantasy such as XMen, but it does matter here. The  Revanent (meaning one who returns and especially one who returns from the dead) is  inspired by the allegedly  true story of Hugh Glass.  Apart from the fact that it is meant to have its roots in reality, the film takes great pains to look authentic, the screen being filled with filthy clothes, unshaven faces with dirty  ill-kemped beards and hair, bad skin and  inexhaustible   amounts of mud, all this set against a bleak background of  birch  forest.  The  absurdity of much of the action is horribly at odds with the  tenor of the film which is  deadly serious.

Then there is the question of historical  veracity.   Much of the important plot elements have no solid basis in fact. There is no evidence that Glass had an Indian wife or a half Indian  son.  Hence there was no son for Fitzgerald to kill. Glass was not helped by an Indian  after being deserted by Fitzgerald and Bridger. Glass did not kill  Fitzgerald let alone that seek him out  because Fitzgerald had either vanished or enlisted in the US army,  which meant he could not be safely killed because it would be treated as murder.   Take away those parts of the story and the story has lost much of its energy.

Some of the invention is also plainly designed to fit into the politically correct envelope.  The invention of an Indian wife and half-Indian son,  the depiction of Glass’ survival as being in part due to the help of an Indian, the running thread of an Arikara  chief attacking  the  trappers not for  the simple booty of the  furs but to trade them for  horses and guns  to enable the recovery of his kidnapped daughter all have no basis even in the tale that the real Hugh Glass told.  It is also true that little is known for certain  of Glass , who was  the only witness to what happened after he was left for dead and who may well have greatly embellished the story.

But even as the story is told in the film there is a curious deadness and inconsequentiality to the tale.  The dreadful truth is  the film is rather boring. The episode with the bear and the attack on the trappers by the Indians are undeniably thrilling, but there is the lack of characters who can engage the audience’s sympathy or even interest.  DiCaprio does his best with the material he is given but the it  is pretty frugal fare, not least by the fact that he is either alone or unable to speak for much of the film.   He is neither villain nor hero  but  a drab, dour unsympathetic  personality in a perilous situation.  That does not make for sympathy and the lack of sympathy means one cannot really care about how if at all  Glass will save himself.

Of the rest of the players  only Tom Hardy makes any real  impact. He is ostensibly the villain but might be seen more as a victim of circumstance  for,  after Glass fails to die of his wounds Fitzgerald and Bridger are left in in an impossible position. They cannot carry  Glass nor is Glass in any fit state to walk.  Their lives are at risk. Fitzgerald behaves badly in one way by pretending that he and Bridger have carried out their task and buried Glass after he has died a natural death, but to leave Glass was not unreasonable. Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry  is sadly y miscast because he is positively wooden and horribly far from being a leader.

This is a film which is too  self-consciously important, the sort of film which one can imagine would-be Oscar winners grasping fondly  in the belief that it had Oscars galore written all over it. It may well be such a film for it has already made its mark at the BAFTAS,  but if it is it will be a triumph of promotion over substance.

 

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