"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Revenant (Fox, 2015)

American creation myth

To complete our reviews of the trio of Westerns that came out in 2015 (the other two are Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight) which are now available on DVD, a word or two on The Revenant.
Back in May 2013, in a post on Jim Bridger, I wrote a little about the ordeal of Hugh Glass. I didn’t know then that they would make a movie about Glass, still less an Oscar-winning epic with Leonardo DiCaprio. But the story of Hugh Glass is certainly a dramatic one.
Hugh Glass
Westerns don’t win Oscars. Oh, there were a few notable exceptions, like Cimarron and Unforgiven, but as a general rule even undeniably great pictures like High Noon or The Searchers didn’t get near the Best Picture award. So when The Revenant won Best Motion Picture last time round (and several other Oscars too, including Best Actor and Best Director) well, that was good news. If, that is, you regard The Revenant as a Western - it’s an 1820s mountain-man story. I do, because it has several Western aspects to it – a difficult journey in the wild, a brave loner determined to right wrongs, hostile Indians and a revenge pursuit, for example.

It was directed and co-written by Mexican Alejandro G Iñárritu and based on the 2002 novel by the multi-talented Michael Punke. The movie does play a bit fast and loose with historical fact but we don’t hold that against Westerns, do we? They are not supposed to be documentaries after all. The point is that it makes a gripping story.
Alejandro G Iñárritu
The two lead personages are Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Their characters are established right from the get-go: Glass is taciturn, tough and a bit of an action man (a classic Western hero, in fact) while Fitzgerald is snide, sour and hyper-critical. They don’t develop, really: they remain that way throughout.
Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald
A young Jim Bridger plays an important part, though. He is played by Will Poulter, 22 (Bridger was 19 so that will do). The question of whether Bridger deserted Glass is not skated over but it is rather excused because of his young age, and blame squarely apportioned to Fitzgerald. Glass himself did in fact pardon Bridger, just because of his youth. Jim Bridger has appeared often in movies, starting with the silent movie The Covered Wagon in 1923 when Tully Marshall took the role, which he reprised in the talkie Fighting Caravans in 1931. Most Bridgers were absurdly false (e.g. Van Heflin in Tomahawk) so it’s good to have a plausible Jim, as here. Glass has also appeared on the screen, small and big, impersonated by John Alderson in Death Valley Days and Richard Harris in Man in the Wilderness (though he had a different name in that epic). DiCaprio’s is certainly the most authentic so far, despite the monkeying about with history.
Will Poulter as Jim Bridger
The movie opens with action, as the trappers’ camp is attacked by Arikara Indians and Glass gets the survivors (including Fitzgerald and Bridger) to the river boat and relative safety. The attack on Glass by a grizzly is brilliantly filmed. It’s utterly realistic. I have no idea how they did it, CGI I suppose, but it’s outstanding. Glass’s injuries were horrific and it is no wonder that his companions gave him up for dead. But he did not die.
 The grizzly
The film Glass has a backstory of an Indian wife (Grace Dove) and son (Forrest Goodluck), and the son is among the party and does all he can to save his father but is murdered by Fitzgerald for his pains. By now Fitzgerald is firmly in the villain camp, and probably has too few saving graces (none, actually) to make him credible. Tom Hardy is a Londoner but you wouldn’t know it. He featured in Inception, Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down, among others, and he does a good job as Mr. Nasty here.

Of course a dead wife and son is a common Western trope. It allows the hero to be both tragic loner and loving family man at the same time.

Most of the movie is (justly) taken up with Glass’s survival and grueling journey to safety. He braves cold, Indians, hunger, rapids and of course his appalling injuries. To rub salt in the wound, Fitzgerald stole his rifle. He starts by crawling but gradually hobbles, then walks. Later on he athletically leaps aboard a horse to escape the Arikara posse. In reality the grizzly had broken his leg, which he set himself, so I don’t think he would really have been doing Tom Mix stunts to get mounted but never mind. Later he disembowels and crawls inside the corpse of this horse, which gives scope for plenty of steaming offal in the snow to wrinkle the noses of the viewers.
He does have help, from a nameless Pawnee (later murdered by French trappers, who are also baddies - On est tous des sauvages) and from a woman who (I think) is the daughter of the Arikara chief pursuing the white men. I say “I think” because it isn’t really made clear. But he finally makes it to Fort Kiowa and safety.

The last part of the picture concerns Glass’s revenge-pursuit of Fitzgerald. History tells us that Fitzgerald had left and joined the US Army and was unreachable by Glass, who did, however, retrieve his rifle from Bridger, but we don’t want mere historical truth to get in the way of a good story so we have a bloody dénouement in the snow.

Mr. DiCaprio, a versatile actor whom I admire, does an earnest job as Glass. For much of the movie he has no one to talk to/interact with and that must make it hard for an actor but he manages to transmit the toughness, grit and determination (fueled clearly by a lust for revenge) that drove him on against nigh-on impossible odds. DiCaprio started Westernism in the perfectly dreadful The Quick and the Dead in 1995 but made up for it with Django Unchained and this one.

The ending is left open, deliberately, I am sure. Does he survive the final revenge ordeal? I take comfort in history: Glass lived another ten years and died in 1833.
Visually the movie is superb, shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, much-nominated for Oscars (understandably so, judging by this picture) in Tierra del Fuego, Alberta and Arizona locations in a washed-out blue & white, like William A Wellman's Track of the Cat as close to monochrome as a color film can get. I also liked the somber and tragic music by Carsten Nicolai and Ryûichi Sakamoto.

To see.



  1. Not carping, just curious - what kept you from giving it a four revolver rating?

    1. Perhaps I was ungenerous. It's certainly a powerful film and visually very strong. But 4-revolver Westerns are pretty rare on Jeff Arnold's West! Maybe it needs time to see how the picture 'matures'!

  2. the revenant solarmovie is one of the most beautifully-shot films on losmovies I have ever seen. I lost count of how many scenes I sat there in utter amazement, which is undoubtedly due to the brilliant directing and spectacular cinematography: there's no shaky-cam, no quick-cut editing, and a lot of incredibly complex shots which appear to have been completed in a single take. If all films were shot similarly to how the Revenant is, then the movie industry would drastically improve.
    See more
    free movies online
    watch movies 2k
    hd movies online free

    1. I do agree that the film is visually very fine.

  3. Jeff, to keep on our conversation on how to name these films - as said for Drums along the Mohawk, I am suggesting "colonial westerns" - convenient also for Jeremiah Johnson, Far horizons, A Man called horse, Big Sky, Man in the wilderness, Unconquered and many others - Alamo !? - I have just found an Inarritu's interview saying his fill is a "pre-western", far simple inst'it !?
    Exciting to see Inarritu will be the president if the jury of the next festival de Cannes.
    About The Revenant I agree with Stereosteve about the 4th revolver...
    Even if I am not satisfied with the arriving too quickly final showdown and non historic arrangements - Henry has never been killed by Fitzpatrick and maybe that's why his name in the film is Fitzgerald... !? Also the French trappers as baddies... Most of the crews of "voyageurs" of any fur company were French (since Nouvelle France including Québec had been taken by the perfide Albion in 1763). Wether the Rocky Mountain Fur Company - founded by Henry and Ashley -, the American Fur Company - JJ Astor and Chouteau -, or the Hudson’s Bay Company - created by the French -!- Radisson et Des Groseilliers thanks to the british Prince Rupert's fundings, the Missouri Fur Company, the Bent, St. Vrain & Company, all had French employees or shareholders.
    I presume it was easier for the script to show a bipolar antagonism when the reality was much more complex... A little like the Indian rivalries too.
    I hope that both multi gifted Leonardo DiCaprio and very versatile Tom Hardy will have other Western opportunities. JM

    1. Not sure that some of the ones you mention are "colonial". JJohnson mountain men pictures or Far Hs exploring ones, or 'Indian' movies like AMCHorse. 'Pre-Westerns' does it quite well for those 18th century frontier dramas.
      I agree that Leo Di C is a fine actor, though his Western The Quick and the Dead was very bad indeed!

  4. Pretty awful you are right! I have never been able to watch anything else but its trailer and I had seen enough... A waste of talents considering the cast! A young LDC - or a young Johnny Depp - could have been a superb Billy the Kid and bringing new generations to like the genre. JM