This is a non-spoiler review.
The Revenant is the story of an unstoppable bad-ass out for revenge that is hampered by flabby direction and a compulsive need to elevate everybody’s motivations beyond the plausible and into some kind of faux spiritual range that is both unnecessary and detracting from the plot. There are some intense battle sequences and some gorgeous nature photography intermingled with people acting like nobody ever would and survive in a northern clime, such as people constantly walking into rivers, getting their crappy mountain-man boots wet.
I grew up in Sweden and went through Swedish Army winter survival training, so I know something about winter survival and the prime directive is: Keep your feet dry. Ideally, you’ll keep the rest of yourself dry too, but if your feet get wet you are well screwed. But in this movie, it’s apparently fine.
And it flummoxes me: Why? Clearly they went on location to shoot a lot of the scenes and clearly they survived so they must have had people on location who know how the cold works, so why did they choose to ignore those people? This is extremely problematic when your whole movie is about a man surviving by his wits and skills in, say it with me: The snow.
In the movie, it’s like the cold is just a visual detail—oh, snow! But no, that kind of cold is a character. It takes on its own life and it affects you. It’s not walking on the beach at Santa Monica and thinking the water is a little cold. It’s a force.
This disrespect or ignorance of the reality of winter is one of the clues the director has no idea whatsoever how things work in the world but is looking for a good shots instead. If you’re northern, this will drive you insane.
But a bigger problem is that everybody has to have capital-M Motivations. It’s not enough that somebody left you for dead and you want them to die for it. Nope. You have to have a backstory. And it’s not enough to be native American and having a bunch of white psycopaths take your land. Nope. You have to have a specific reason to be angry.
It gets tedious. Tedious and so unnecessary.
But all that being said, DiCaprio and Hardy turn in great performances, DiCaprio mostly grunting and straining and Hardy as a mumbly, hateful and hate-able redneck you really want to punch. The problem is that the director doesn’t trust the core of the story—and it is based on a real story: Hugh Glass was a real person—and has to insert a backstory, spirituality, and external motivation into a powerful, stripped-down story, which does nothing but dilute it.
There’s also a fine line between intense and sadistic, and The Revenant crosses that line more times than it needs to. There are perfectly executed fight scenes and then there are fight scenes that go on way too long, rubbing your face in unpleasantness much longer than the story demands, lingering on pain.
But again, well shot, well acted, and I really hope in a couple of years we’ll see a 90 minute cut that will be an exciting action movie. In the meantime, unless you have a lot of time to kill, skip The Revenant.
If you want an enjoyable telling of the Hugh Glass story, the podcast The Dollop has you covered. Note that the real story is actually way more hardcore than what’s depicted in the movie. There are maggots involved. You should check it out.
A great 90 minute movie smothered in a 2-and-a-half-hour wreck.
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