Revenge served cold

Unlike The Hateful Eight, which unabashedly boasts its genre status, The Revenant is not being promoted as a Western – yet that’s essentially what it is. The story is set in the 1820s, the characters are all armed to the teeth and ride horses, there’s a buffalo stampede, and the film opens with a savage attack by Indians. Unlike the Westerns of yesteryear, however, most are played by actual Native Americans and not all are portrayed as bloodthirsty killers – just most of them.

The film, based “in part” on Michael Punke’s best-selling novels, marks filmmaker Alejandro G. Inarritu’s first effort after winning the Academy Award last year for Birdman. Not unlike Kevin Costner, who won an Oscar for Dances With Wolves (1990) then made The Postman (1997), or Michael Cimino, who won for The Deer Hunter (1978) then made Heaven’s Gate (1980), this appears to be another example of a “visionary” filmmaker making his “visionary” epic.

The overwhelming physical production, to say nothing of an unconscionable running time (well over two hours), have an unfortunate tendency to trample this simple, fairly straightforward story of revenge underfoot. There are elements of mysticism and spiritualism present, but not enough to beef up the interest level. For all its visual beauty, The Revenant is grim, grueling and laborious, a rugged saga that sags instead of soars.

Leonardo DiCaprio portrays frontier scout Hugh Glass, guiding a team of trappers into the Yukon Territory in search of valuable pelts. Following the aforementioned attack on the trappers’ outpost and a gruesome mauling by a grizzly, the badly-wounded Glass is left behind in the care of his half- Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who makes no secret of his dislike for Glass.

That hatred intensifies when Fitzgerald kills Hawk and leaves Glass to die. Needless to say – because it’s barely an hour into the film and DiCaprio is the star – Glass doesn’t die. He undergoes an arduous journey to exact revenge upon Fitzgerald.

DiCaprio eats raw fish and buffalo, cauterizes his own wounds, and disembowels a horse with his bare hands – all the better to crawl inside for warmth against the elements. If The Revenant is meant as a tribute or elegy to human endurance, it’s as much an endurance test for the audience.

(It’s not even clear what audience the film would conceivably appeal to.)

In his earlier films, Inarritu managed to give minor characters depth and dimension – think Clea DuVall in 21 Grams (2003), Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikucki’s Oscar-nominated turns in Babel (2003), and virtually the entire supporting cast of Birdman – but here only DiCaprio and Hardy (growling incomprehensibly and scowling throughout) manage to emerge. DiCaprio’s the righteous and Hardy the wicked, and it takes so long to reach their climactic confrontation that the suspense hasn’t built, but instead eroded, over the running time.

The Revenant opens Friday !

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