The Revenant Fails as a Revenge Story, But At Least it Looks Pretty

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Back in August, I talked about the trailer for the film The Revenant as well as the film’s plot and possible meaning to the title. I was pretty excited for the movie to come out, I think Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the best actors around and he seems to be getting better and better in his craft as an actor. Adding Tom Hardy, another person I think is a solid actor, and you have me thoroughly excited for the movie. What through me off is the trailers, at least at first, because they didn’t really tell you much about the movie itself– sure it showed some incredible scenes and scenery but that was about it. I also read a while back that director Alejandro González Iñárritu was an utter devil on the set of this film and that many workers loathed him– but that is just an interesting fact. Iñárritu used 100% natural lighting for this film and that, along with exceptional cinematography, allows for a visually stunning film, but the story, as it plays out on-screen, lacks something that I just cannot quite put my finger on… Perhaps it is the fact that I kept waiting for this story to have an actual ‘revenge feel’ that only bore fruition in the last 20 or so minutes of the film. Or maybe it was just that, in the end, the film felt more like Iñárritu was trying to create a piece of high-form art rather than something to entertain.

Synopsis

While exploring the uncharted wilderness in 1823, legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sustains injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his hunting team leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back home to his beloved family. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, Glass treks through the wintry terrain to track down John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the former confidant who betrayed and abandoned him.

revenant-gallery-16-gallery-imagePart of what irks me about the movie is that most of the characters are rather unlikable or are vaguely portrayed to the point where you feel nothing of their plights. John  Fitzgerald, one of the films main protagonists, does, without a doubt, deserve to die and the end of the film… but he doesn’t seem any worse than everyone else around him. If anything he seems a bit misunderstood in a lot of ways. He is rough and gruff and rubs people the wrong way, sure, but in many situations he is somewhat right for doing, what other people, refuse to do. Hugh Glass is on the verge of death due to a bear attack, the captain of their expedition refuses to leave him behind or kill him. However, every moment that their meager crew spends carrying Glass is another moment that the Native Americans (the ones who attacked their camp and killed dozens of their men already) have to gain ground on them. Fitzgerald IS protecting his own hide, but that doesn’t make him wrong. So I don’t know… He does some messed up shit, but I also don’t think he is inherently evil either. In fact, many of the grown men in this film paint a picture that, to be a man, you have to be tough and do what you have to do to survive… so given that message I feel more like ‘ol Fitzy is just a product of his environment.

revenant-snow-xlargeAdditionally, I spoke in a previous article about what the title “The Revenant” suggests. In this case, “revenant” is defined as a visible ghost or animated corpse believed to return from the grave to terrorize the living. And, I like this title as it can either read, then, as The Ghost or The Zombie. My issue with the movie, then, given that title is that there is very little in the way of DiCaprio “haunting” the living. In fact, he just goes through a crazy long struggle just to get back to civilization. Don’t get me wrong, it is an impressive feat, but for most of the film Tom Hardy’s character isn’t worried one bit. I guess this wouldn’t bother me too much but, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books of all time and what that book did so well, as a revenge story, is have the Count be that ghost of the past, constantly haunting his enemies who believed him dead. They skipped most of the middle part in the book, and jumped…what? 10 years or so in the future as he is employing his designs on his enemies…why? Because the middle stuff was probably not all that interesting! The Revenant, on the other hand, is essentially that middle part stretched out into a film and then you get 20 minutes of revenge-plot.

Also I could have done without the Native Americans in this film, not that they weren’t well done or anything, but they just seemed to serve as plot-filler more than anything else. The Natives are hunting the white man down, constantly chasing them, to hopefully find the chief’s daughter or wife… I am not sure. But Iñárritu just used them to push the plot along– if there was a lull, bring in those Natives!!! And they too, weren’t exactly good or bad– just brutal as hell. They killed literally ANY white person they could find and if they found another camp? “let’s go there! My daughter might be there!” and they would slaughter more people.

untitledThere is no doubt that the film was acted extremely well. Hardy, DiCaprio and even that creepy-eye-browed kid from Maze Runner (Will Poulter) did really good jobs. I just didn’t like the movie itself. DiCaprio must have had to put up with a lot of crazy stuff and I wouldn’t be surprised if he left the set with some injuries or scars to prove it. A lot of the movies interesting parts, really, revolve around his struggle to survive and all of the crazy crap he has to go through. From out running Native Americans (and falling off a cliff or waterfall to do so) to sleeping inside of the carcass of a dead horse to stay warm, DiCaprio’s struggle feels real and gritty and intense throughout the film and every time he struggles– it draws you back in. I doubt he will win an award, I mean it is basically becoming a joke, but he deserves on for this portrayal if for no other reason than all of the shit he had to do in the movie.

maxresdefaultBut like I said earlier, this film feels more like Iñárritu was attempting to create some sort of high-end art rather than entertainment. And, from a cinematography standpoint, I think he succeeds. Painstakingly utilizing natural light was a bold and budget increasing move for him and I think it pays off in the movie. I actually caught myself shivering a few times when I would see, or rather my eyes would see (I would feel) the cold on-screen. Additionally, you would feel grateful when DiCaprio was near a warm fire and almost feel that warmth too. You don’t get this in many movies so I was thoroughly impressed at this and the cinematography even succeeds during the action sequences, drawing you in. And oh my god, the length of the bear attack was just painful (in a good way). But I cannot help but think that, because of all of these small attention to detail-moments, Iñárritu lost the entertainment-piece that is vital to any film. Much of the film dragged on and had little to do with the overarching plot of the story. You could have cut out a solid 30-40 minutes of this film and it would have probably been better for it. Just sayin’

leo-the-revenantSo was the film good? Should you go watch it? My answer to the first question is that, it was okay. It wasn’t a disappointment, I just see where it could have been improved. To the second question, yes go watch this movie if only for the acting and the imagery. Hell, if only so that DiCaprio can buy himself some warm blankets after this movie! Basically, Don’t go in thinking it is going to be this awesome revenge story, and you should be fine. Think of it as an epic of a story that shows Hugh Glass overcoming incredible odds to come back from the dead. His struggle is a spectacle in and of itself, I just wish I had been expecting so much of said struggle going in.

 

2 thoughts on “The Revenant Fails as a Revenge Story, But At Least it Looks Pretty

  1. I think that you are looking at it as solely a tale of revenge – but it’s supposed to be more than that! It’s man vs. nature, and the Native Americans are representative as a literal force of nature. Also, I interpreted the Native American subplots as Iñárritu’s way of showing the ruthlessness of mankind – it wasn’t just a single group guilty, everbody was guilty of this horror. I really enjoyed the semantics employed here, so I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree with you on this 😛

    1. Hahah I’m not even mad! Actually kind of happy you read it? But in all honesty, I get your point of view and I think it goes a lot toward what I talked about with the film feeling more like a piece of art rather than a piece of entertainment. As someone who respects the artistry employed, I love the movie , but as someone who wanted to be entertained, I thought the movie lacked. But I mean , I’m clearly in the minority on this one haha! 🙂

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