Monday, May 30, 2016

Weekend movie night: The Revenant.

The Revenant movie poster. 20th Century Fox.

It's time for yet another movie review. This time it's 2015's The Revenant, staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. It's a story of revenge and survival during the frontier days in the United States. Loosely based on the real story of Hugh Glass the movie is violent, beautifully shot and well acted. As always with these reviews expect spoilers below! 

First things first, the movie is very loosely based on the story of Hugh Glass. Many of the events in the movie simply did not happen. First of all, it seems as though Glass never had a son at all, so John Fitzgerald never killed him, obviously. Glass also never took revenge on Fitzgerald either. He caught up with him and Jim Bridger after returning from the wilderness. He forgave Bridger right away and let Fitzgerald off the hook because he was at that point enlisted in the Army. Glass told Fitzgerald that as long as he was in the Army he was safe but he did manage to get his rifle back from Fitzgerald.

So what did happen in the movie? Well Glass was supposedly mauled by a bear and survived several attacks from Indians. He also did manage to make it back to Fort Kiowa after being left for dead by Fitzgerald and Bridger. And he was just as determined and bad ass as he was in this movie. Of course, it's tough to get an accurate view of these mountain men due to how their life stories were often embellished, but it is true that they were all bad-ass regardless. 

Still, you shouldn't go into this movie thinking it is an accurate telling of the Hugh Glass story. It's embellished quite a bit and quite frankly rather offensive to John Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was a monster in this movie. He murdered for profit and was generally an all around evil person but in real life he wasn't nearly as bad. Certainly his worse sin in real life (concerning the events in the movie) was leaving Glass behind. That either makes him a coward or a pragmatist, but not a complete monster like Fitzgerald was in the movie. I've never been a fan of movies that exaggerate the deeds of people just so they can have a villain and if I have a major criticism of this movie, this would be it. Indeed, I think the real life ending where Glass was denied his revenge would have been a lot more interesting an ending then the one we got. 

Now on to the actual movie itself. The signature scene in the film is the bear attack near the beginning. It's obviously a great scene and it's worth seeing the rest of the movie just for it. The CGI was very good and I think it is the most realistic attack I have seen in a film. Its absolutely brutal by almost any standard. Hilariously, somehow a meme got started on the internet where people thought Leonardo DiCaprio was raped by the bear. I can assure you that did not happen! 

The film was beautifully shot. Apparently the director shot the whole film on location in Canada and Argentina and did the whole thing with natural lighting. It really shows. This is one of the most "real" looking films I have ever watched. So often these days Hollywood films like to put CGI in everything and in this case they didn't do that. Though shooting the film this way must have been an horrible experience, you can really tell that it paid off in the end. This alone makes the movie worth watching. 

And I have to say this film had some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen. The places they filmed this movie in were amazing. It was primal nature at it's most amazing and it's worth it to see the movie alone just for the scenery. It really made me want to go to the mountains of the great plains states or even to Canada or Argentina where the film was shot. 

The film was well acted. A lot was made out of Leonardo DiCaprio's winning the Oscar for this role. Some people think it was more of a consolation win after several high profile snubs for the actor. I kind of agree. I am in no way saying that DiCaprio was bad in this movie, indeed, he did a very good job, but it makes little sense to me to give a best acting award for a role where there is little speaking. He did good, but was it Oscar level good? Who knows? DiCaprio was definitely overdue for a win though, so I am not upset that he won for The Revenant.  

Tom Hardy did a fantastic job as John Fitzgerald as well. He was almost unrecognizable in his role, but that tends to happen with him. Just compare what the guy looks like as Shinzon from Star Trek, Bane from Batman and Fitzgerald from The Revenant. Domehall Gleeson and Will Poulter did excellent jobs as well. Over all the acting was fairly good. It really seemed like the men in this movie were real mountain men. 

I also have to say kudos to the film for casting actual Native Americans in the role. All too often in the past the role of Indians have gone to Italians and other non-Indians. I don't care about this for the whole "social justice diversity" reasons, just that it takes me out of the movie when I see an actor that's obviously not an Indian playing one. 

As for the plot, I greatly enjoyed the "survival against nature" theme. Seeing someone survive against the wilderness and hostile natives is always fascinating to me. The fact that everyone in the movie, including the villains, had to survive against the elements first and foremost made the film a lot more interesting. 

I was less impressed with the revenge plot. As much as I hate to say it I almost think that revenge plots are a bit played out. There have been so many movies where revenge has been used that I think it is getting overdone. 

I do have to say that I thought it showed the Ree/Arikara chief in a strange light. The Chief's actions, though motivated by understandable circumstances, were horrifying. And the movie really doesn't condemn him either. Not only was the whole plot spun into motion because he attacked an innocent party because he blamed them for a kidnapping that they had no role in, he also never got any retribution for what he had done. 

It almost felt like the makers of the film were a bit to afraid to have a Native American villain. Certianly, the savage Indian trope is overplayed but in my mind the noble savage one is as well. I think instead of the kidnapping plot they could have just used the real reason why the Ree tribe was attacking people during that time period. They had been the go-between for the tribes in the area and were being pushed out of the role by white fur traders. That may not be as relatable as the revenge motivation, but it's more of a nuanced position between the savage Indian and noble save tropes. 

All of this criticism is minor though. As is The Revenant is one of the better films I have seen recently, and I highly recommend it despite a few flaws. The only way you wouldn't enjoy it is if you hate violence as this is a very violent and gruesome movie. It's also rather long, but I count that as a point in its favor. All and all, it is worth it just to see how much effort they creators put into this film.   

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