Well, the Golden Globes are history, and the Academy Award nominations are in. The Globe’s, presented annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, traditionally are considered a barometer for how the Oscar nominations will go. That belief certainly held true this year in at least one case because the big winner at the Globes was “The Revenant” starring Leonardo Di Caprio and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”). The film swept the awards for best picture, best director, and best actor.
During the recent announcement of the Academy Award nominations, “The Revenant,” dominated the competition with a whopping 12. This year eight films were nominated for best picture, and I have seen only two of them – “The Bridge of Spies,” and “The Revenant.” I plan to see all of them before the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 28, but I have seen trailers for most of the other contenders. And I am willing to bet that I will enjoy each and all of them more than I did “The Revenant.” Despite a stellar performance by DiCaprio and some truly stunning cinematography, I thought the film was tedious, long, and downright boring in places.
Based upon Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name, “The Revenant” tells a fictional version of how legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) took on Mother Nature and won. The story is set in 1823, and Glass is leading a fur-trapping an expedition for Capt. Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) along the Missouri River, but his group is attacked by some Arikara tribesmen. Although Glass survives, he subsequently is severely mauled by a grizzly bear (a scene not for the squeamish) and not expected to live.
Capt. Henry decides to head home, but he orders three men to stay with Glass to bury him when he dies. Those assigned to the funeral detail are the following: John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy); Jim Bridger (Will Poulter); and Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), Glass’s son by a Pawnee woman.
After Henry and the remaining hunters leave, Fitzgerald soon becomes impatient waiting for Glass to die and decides to speed up the process. However, when Hawk sees what Fitzgerald intends to do, he attacks him, but Fitzgerald stabs him to death, and then he and Bridger leave Glass to die. The main part of the film then deals with how the mortally wounded Glass attempts to crawl and drag himself over a snow-covered tundra for 200 miles to avenge his son’s death. What ensues is a classic man-against-nature movie that epitomizes the term “tour de force.” And of course the film’s title refers to Glass because a revenant is a person who returns to life after being dead.
The hardships Glass endures during his amazing trek through the frigid countryside are unimaginable, and DiCaprio turns in an amazing performance when you consider he conveys Glass’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings without speaking a word for much of his journey. (At least in “Castaway” Tom Hanks had a volleyball to talk with.) This role is unlike anything DiCaprio has ever done before, and he proves to be up to the task. In the production notes, both the director and actor offered insight into the film.
Inarritu said, “Glass’s story asks the questions: Who are we when we are completely stripped of everything? What are we made of, and what are we capable of?”
“‘The Revenant’” is an incredible journey through the harshest elements of an uncharted America,” DiCaprio said. “It’s about the power of a man’s spirit. Hugh Glass’s story is the stuff of campfire legends, but Alejandro uses that folklore to explore what it really means to have all the chips stacked against you, what the human spirit can endure, and what happens to you when you do endure.”
DiCaprio also explained what drew him to making the picture.
“There are powerful themes for me in the film: the will to live and our relationship with wilderness. I’ve also previously played a lot of characters who were incredibly articulate in different ways and had a lot to say, so this was a unique challenge for me. It was about conveying things without words or in a different language. A lot of it was about adapting in the moment, about reacting to what nature was giving us and to what Glass was going through as we filmed. It was about exploring the most internal elements of the survival instinct.”
Although it’s highly doubtful that anyone could have survived what Glass did, it is an interesting legend. Even director Inarritu admitted that “…much of Glass’s story is apocryphal…,” and although it probably is a good story to tell around the campfire, it didn’t really work for me as a movie that’s almost three hours long.
Despite diCaprio’s excellent acting and some spectacular cinematography, “The Revenant” did nothing for me. For some reason I simply was not drawn into the story, and I soon became very tired of watching Glass crawl across the snow. In fact I began wishing it would end long before the two-hour mark, and when it was finally over, I felt as if I had just passed a huge endurance test. Also be forewarned that the scene of Glass’s being mauled by the bear is incredibly realistic and graphic, and there’s another sequence in the movie that may horrify horse lovers.
In spite of its 12 Oscar nominations and its Golden Globe wins, I still thought “The Revenant” was a real chore to sit through, and, therefore, it earns the final score of a highly overrated six. Glass’s endless journey through the snow just left me cold.