Friday, January 8, 2016

In Theaters: THE REVENANT (2015)

(US/Hong Kong/Taiwan - 2015)

Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. Written by Mark L. Smith and Alejandro G. Inarritu. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Lukas Haas, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge, Arthur Redcloud, Duane Edward, Brendan Fletcher, Melaw Nakehk'o, Fabrice Adde, Grace Dove. (R, 156 mins)

Following his Oscar-winning BIRDMAN, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Inarritu (AMORES PERROS) goes full Werner Herzog-meets-Terrence Malick with the unflinchingly brutal and extremely visceral revenge saga THE REVENANT. Based in part on a 2002 novel by Michael Punke, a fictionalized chronicle of famed 19th century trapper/explorer Hugh Glass, THE REVENANT is a semi-remake of the 1971 film MAN IN THE WILDERNESS, where "Zach Bass" was portrayed by Richard Harris during his post-MAN CALLED HORSE period of rugged, violent outdoor adventures. Inarritu constructs THE REVENANT as an homage chiefly to Herzog--with its location shooting in distant and difficult terrains of Canada and Argentina, relying on natural lighting and benefiting from the director's refusal to use greenscreen--but also to Malick, with its long takes of vast wilderness and nature shots with voiceover as Glass, played here by Leonardo DiCaprio, reflects and drifts in and out of consciousness. Exposed to the elements and turning in the most physically demanding performance of his career, DiCaprio is up to the challenges of what's essentially Inarritu's period-setting take on a muddy, bloody, snowy, and slushy survivalist thriller, and while there's a lot of contemplative, dreamlike artistry to establish cineaste cred and to draw comparisons to Malick's THE NEW WORLD, it's also get plenty of harrowing action and a strong narrative to make it accessible to mainstream audiences.

According to legend, Glass was hired as a guide for a group of trappers and frontiersman exploring the vast Louisiana Purchase area in 1823, and after being mauled by a bear, two men in the expedition were left behind to bury Glass when he died. The two men left him to die, taking his guns and equipment with them. Glass survived and traveled 200 miles with serious injuries and on a broken leg, crawling almost the entire way, to find the men and retrieve his belongings. Inarritu and co-writer Mark L. Smith (who's scripted mostly horror movies like VACANCY, Joe Dante's THE HOLE, and the upcoming American remake of MARTYRS) stick to that same basic story, but add a human element to Glass' quest for vengeance in the form of Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), his half-Indian teenage son with his late Pawnee wife. Glass is hired as a guide by a military exploration outfit headed by Capt. Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), who's brought along various mercenary frontiersman and fur trappers who make their living selling pelts. Over 30 of the 40 men in the expedition are killed in a battle with a ferocious Ree tribe, which forces the survivors to send their boat downriver as a decoy and travel the long journey back to the camp on foot if they have any chance of survival. Henry places his trust in Glass, who brought Hawk along, the two knowing the area better than anyone else. That doesn't settle well with Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), an unscrupulous trapper and scalping survivor more concerned with his take on the pelt sales than with everyone's safety. The bigoted Fitzgerald also doesn't like having "half-breed" Hawk along and openly taunts Glass about his dead wife and questions his loyalty to white men. After Glass is viciously mauled by a bear and clings to life, Henry takes all but two of the men back to camp, leaving Fitzgerald and young, inexperienced Bridger (Will Poulter) behind with Hawk to bury Glass when he eventually dies, with orders to bring Hawk back with them to the camp. While Bridger is getting water from the river and Hawk is elsewhere, Fitzgerald convinces Glass to allow him to put him out of his misery, and as he's suffocating him, Hawk returns and attacks Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald barely tries to explain the circumstances, instead quickly opting to stab the boy to death as an immobile Glass watches helplessly. Disposing of the body and lying to the returning Bridger about the Ree tribe being nearby, Fitzgerald half-buries Glass alive and intimidates Bridger into going along with it.

Of course, Glass survives, a revenant returning from the "dead," so to speak. With open, festering wounds covering his body, he slowly regains his strength on his arduous journey back to Henry's camp to make Fitzgerald pay, facing the incredibly harsh elements, a group of French trappers who have abducted a young Ree woman (Melaw Nakahk'o), and the enraged Ree tribe led by Hikuc (Arthur Redcloud), the young woman's Chief father who will stop at nothing to find her. Inarritu channels Herzog's AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD and FITZCARRALDO in his depiction of Glass' single-minded pursuit (also, to an extent, Nicolas Winding Refn's brilliant 2011 minimalist Viking saga VALHALLA RISING). Glass' obsessive quest for revenge gives him strength and is as blood-soaked as any splatter film, with hacked off limbs, bleeding wounds, bitten-off appendages, scalpings, castration, and Glass using gun powder to cauterize a neck wound. The stunning cinematography by frequent Malick collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki (often utilizing the kind of long takes reminiscent of his work on Alfonso Cuaron's CHILDREN OF MEN), Ryuichi Sakamoto's score, and the intricately detailed production design by the great Jack Fisk (an Oscar-nominee for Paul Thomas Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD and another go-to guy for Malick) combine with Inarritu's vision to create an incredibly rough and unforgiving landscape that vividly captures the merciless nature and the arduous toil of frontier life. Glass' contemplations of his late wife and his thoughts as he traverses the land of the living and the dead in fittingly mythic death-and-rebirth fashion often play as voiceover (and sometimes subtitled, as he speaks Pawnee) and are pretty blatant in their Malick worship, but THE REVENANT is a perfectly-balanced fusion of the arthouse and the commercial. A constantly grunting, wheezing DiCaprio, aided by some gruesomely realistic wound makeup, throws himself into the role with such a committed fervor that it's easy to overlook how great Hardy is here as well, playing one of the most despicably self-serving bastards to come down the pike in some time. In the end, it's little more than a high-end revenge story, but done with artistry and ambition by a genuine auteur at the top of his game.

No comments:

Post a Comment