Review – DON’T Look for the Bear Necessities (“The Revenant”)

Revenant. It’s French for ‘being brought back from the dead’. It also could mean ‘taking an exceedingly long time to tell a story with alot of close-ups of Leonardo DiCaprio’s left nostril while trekking through the frozen tundra after being viciously attacked by a bear’. Of course, that’s loosely translated.

Iñárritu pulls out his magic camera tricks, like he did with his Oscar winning Birdman film, and gives us a tour-de-force cinematic epic wrapped inside a very basic revenge plot. It’s 1823 in the unsettled U.S. section of the Louisiana Purchase, and a hunting party of fur trappers has Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) in command, with Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his half-Indian son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) as their guide and tracker. But a savage attack from the Arikara Indians wipes out nearly everyone, forcing a small handful to flee for their lives

While being pursued and making their very, very long way back to Fort Kiowa, Glass is horribly mauled by a grizzly bear. The small group believes he won’t make it, especially the loathsome John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who just as soon kill him as leave him. With many miles to traverse through snow and wilderness, Captain Henry leaves a dying Glass with Hawk, Fitzgerald, and young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) to bury him when dead. But, y’know, Fitzgerald just can’t hang around that long and decides to speed up the process. After knifing Hawk, Fitzgerald buries Glass alive and takes off with Bridger for the fort.

But seeing your son killed and being buried alive just pisses him off something fierce and Glass, broken, bleeding, and battered, manages to crawl out his premature grave and go after Fitzgerald… for almost an hour (screen time). Scraggly long hair and matted beard obscuring his face, Glass grasps for food anywhere, avoids killer Indians, tries to heal with the help of a friendly Pawnee Indian, and frees a captive Indian girl being held by some nasty French traders.

Finally, Glass reaches the fort, but Fitzgerald has skedaddled for the snowy hills in fear of his life. Glass, revenge seething from his lips, takes off yet again with Captain Henry to capture the renegade man with, shall we say, rather grisly results. How grisly? Quentin Tarantino would giggle! The anti-climatic finale offers you, the audience, to guess the fate of Hugh Glass.

This is one gorgeous looking movie. You have multi-Oscar winning Emmanuel Luezki as cinematographer and Iñárritu using his fluid, in-your-face, 360 degree steadi-cam movements; it’s like a ballet. A ballet with blood, that is. The action is SO real, it’s nail-biting and breath-taking as is that controversial bear attack scene which actually made me gasp. There are ethereal dream scenes, reminiscent of Gladiator, wild spinning camera moves, and fish-eye close-ups, which are cool since the screenplay by Iñárritu and Mark L.Smith is remarkably simple and has very long stretches with no dialoge at all. But you’re so busy looking at the beautiful scenery, costuming, and Hardy’s right eyeball that you’ll hardly even notice the lack of sparkling conversation.

You really got to hand it to the actors here. Shot on location in Canada and British Columbia’s freezing forests and rivers, many techies and P.A.’s quit because of the incredibly harsh weather conditions. What you’re seeing on screen is all very real; no CGI! Hardy, DiCaprio, Poulter, Domhnall and the rest really suffered for their art and it shows on screen in their remarkable performances. DiCaprio is amazing and looks unlike anything he’s ever played as does a disheveled Hardy. The two are just scary good and candidates for Oscar gold.

Tasty tidbit: Both Christian Bale and Sean Penn were originally considered to play Hugh Glass.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Mountain men, ya gotta love ’em. They get attacked by bears, left for dead, and still pull through to live again. Leo did it in The Revenant, and Robert Redford almost did that in this gripping, epic film shot on location the grand Utah parks and forests.

Jeremiah Johnson (Redford), a jaded veteran of the Mexican War, seeks solace and refuge in the Rocky Mountains as a trapper, but it’s not an easy life. He has a run-in with Indian Chief, Paints-His-Shirt-Red (Joaquin Martinez), then inadvertently disrupts a grizzly bear hunt of the elderly and eccentric “Bear Claw” Chris Lapp (Will Geer). But after a few years, he gets the hang of things

Later he comes across a small cabin whose inhabitants were apparently attacked by Indian warriors, leaving only a silent woman (Allyn Ann McLerie) and her young son (Josh Albee) as survivors. Together they build a home together as a makeshift family and even rescue a strange bald trapper named Del Gue (Stefan Giersch) from certain death from the violent Blackfoot tribe. But after helping out a U.S. Army Calvary search for a lost party and taking them through a forbidden Indian burial land, Johnson’s family is slaughtered.

Johnson, enraged at this, sets off after the warriors who killed his family and murders all but one. Johnson leaves the last one alive and the survivor escapes, only to have the Crow nation respect Johnson for that act of honor. Years pass and Johnson comes to live and peace with the Crow Indians as he becomes the true mountain man that he always wanted to be.

A terrific screenplay by Edward Anhalt and John Milius, this rugged and beautifully photographed movie was directed by actor Sydney Pollack. Interestingly enough, this was supposed to be a violent Sam Peckinpah movie with either Lee Marvin or Clint Eastwood as Johnson. But Marvin dropped out and Eastwood didn’t like Peckinpah, so the studio gave the picture to Redford who brought in his friend, Pollack.

This is one of Redford’s finest roles and really shows off his talents for excellence in acting without saying a word, even under a thick scruffy beard and layers of buckskin. The direction by Pollack is just terrific and the cinematography by Duke Callaghan is breath-taking, making this movie one of the highest money making films of 1972.

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