Just got back from a fascinating moving picture called “The Revenant” with a fella named Leonardo DiCaprio and a host of other folks play-acting in a real fancy manner.
DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a sort of scout-trapper with a party of other trappers in what is described as the uncharted American wilderness of the early 1800s. Along with Glass is his son, Hawk, who is half-Pawnee, half-Glass (see what I just did there?), himself appearing to be in his late teens. The basic plot will appear to contain spoilers, but I’m not letting you in on anything that’s not already in the trailer, so stop breathing that way. Glass and his kid (wish they’d named him Tumbler) are out hunting for vittles when they are met by a couple of bear cubs; Glass is pretty smart, and recognizes that, unless things are really out of control, there’s probably a mother bear nearby. There is; she gets to whaling on Glass, and before mama bear is killed, she has a pretty good opportunity to get some severe chewing and tearing action on Hugh. He’s all but dead, and the rest of the trappers do their level best to stitch him up – but it’s obvious that his tap-dancing days are mostly done, at least for the foreseeable future.
The trappers, led by Captain Andrew Henry (played splendidly by British thespian Domhnall Gleason, who apparently took the role because it has two first names, neither of which is as confusing a monicker as Domhnall), are being chased by a band of angry Native Americans looking for one of their women folk, and they feel the need to get away kinda pronto. Only thing is, Glass. He’s a bundle strapped to a couple of sticks (a makeshift stretcher), and when it comes to getting him up snowy cliffs, it’s just not happening. He’s left in the care of his son, along with a couple of other Brit actors – Will Poulter and Tom Hardy, who both can act the flies off a carcass; they’re good… The character played by Hardy (who is an actor, and not the author who died over a hundred years ago) sees that snuffing Glass is pretty much the only way he’s getting out of his situation. He and Poulter’s character leave Glass for dead after convincing Glass’s son to stop breathing.
This is a long movie, but the time goes by…well, pretty slowly. Thank goodness for the cinematographer (who deserves an Academy Award) and the scenery (ditto); the tracking shots are Tarkovsky-slow and hypnotizing. Doc’s wife averted her eyes during the more gruesome scenes (there’s an easy handful) by admiring the beautiful trees, snow, mountains, and whatnot. The soundtrack is understated but perfect, capturing the mood of the wilderness both surrounding the characters and within their hearts; it was composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose work I first admired with the arrival of “Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence” (featuring a magical bit of acting by David Bowie). It’s stunning.
Doc was particularly struck by the American accents these British fellas pulled off. Gleason’s Captain Henry was, as the most educated of the men, fairly Midwestern and sounded like the real deal. Poulter did a remarkable job as well, but most of his dialogue was amidst no small amount of sobbing and whining (sorry, Will, you’re still okay in Doc’s book). But Tom freaking Hardy knocked it out of the park (that’s an American idiom, Tom, you can look it up if’n you’re reading this) with his very southern drawl. It’s easy enough to pull off the exaggerated hillbilly twang without too much effort, even if you’re Lithuanian, but what Hardy does with his uneducated mountain man from the south, not quite hillbilly but not quite Jay Gatsby, is amazing. I’d think this came after months of training, but who knows? I do know that I had no idea that was Tom Hardy until more than halfway through the picture. Start carving his name on that Best Supporting Actor statuette, ladies.
Doc could go on and on about the computer graphics (which Doc understands to be high-falutin’ ultra-realistic fancy cartoon work), but I’ll just offer this – sometimes the uncanny valley extends beyond trying to capture human faces and movement; that was the case with the bear during the attack on Glass. It wasn’t laughably obvious, just sorta not right. There’s some bodacious bow-and-arrow work that the CGI folks got just right, but that’s real fast and out of your sight almost immediately after the strike.
Speaking of the bow-and-arrow scenes. Let me tell you, it must have been terrific fun to choreograph; there’s CGI to pull all the bits of the scene together, and make the seams smooth and invisible, but there’s about a 90 second scene towards the beginning of the opening fight scene where the camera plays “pass the parcel” with the characters – it will track character A’s action up until character A throws a knife at character B, who is struck immediately after releasing an arrow at character C, who falls into the water and is almost kicked by character D, who jumps on a horse to knock character E to the ground. It’s dizzying, and it’s almost like ballet, but with a ton more blood than you’d expect to see from anything Twyla Tharp ever put on the stage.
A great movie from start to finish. DiCaprio’s been the subject of a lot of Oscar talk; not sure he doesn’t deserve it, but then again, there’s not a bad acting job in the whole flick. Take the time to see it on the big screen, if you get the chance. Doc and the missus had a blast. My only complaint was that not a single person in Hollywood had the good sense to include a scene where the trappers are arguing over Hugh Glass’s prostrate form after the bear attack, trying to decide if he’s more dead or alive. Coulda been a sweet opportunity to have one side over the other arguing whether Glass is half-empty or half-full.
On a scale of A through F, with A being awesome and F being shabbier than an Adam Sandler drama, Doc gives this one a solid 92.