The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Revenant

The Revenant is one of those movies where you need to go outside, breathe some fresh air, and settle your nerves when it's over. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman) has crafted a brutal film about brutal people enduring brutal hardships - one that's exhilarating in its ability to transport you to another time and place. It's a raw, violent picture that finds beauty in ugliness, and ugliness in beauty. I'm hard-pressed to think of a movie experience I've had that's even remotely comparable.

Set in 1823, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a fur trapper on an expedition with a hunting team. There is some tension between Glass and one of the other members, the surly John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). That tension intensifies when Glass is viciously mauled by a bear and left for dead by Fitzgerald. Facing a harsh winter and severe injury, Glass slowly makes his way across a hostile landscape, determined to get back to civilization, find Fitzgerald, and exact his revenge.

That sounds like a thin plot for a movie that runs two hours and thirty-six minutes. The Revenant really benefits from the length, though. The viewing time passes quickly, while also underlining the duration of the journey Glass makes. Each hazard he encounters is depicted with precision, so that the magnitude of his endurance is completely felt. Freezing temperatures, dangerous animals, and murderous enemies are among the things he has to contend with. By the time the film is over, the viewer – like Glass – is exhausted. That's in a good way, though. Every new trial offers an electrifying look at the very concept of survival, as we watch this incredibly determined man push himself beyond ordinary limits.

A revenant is defined as “a person who has returned, especially or supposedly from the dead.” Thematically, this concept is key in the film. By no logic should Glass be able to survive the things he does, especially after that bear nearly destroys him. Embedded in the story is a subtle suggestion that he quite literally wills himself back to life following the attack and, furthermore, wills himself to survive whatever comes his way long enough to carry out revenge upon Fitzgerald. A supernatural current runs underneath The Revenant, never expressed openly, but felt nonetheless. That quality helps provide the film with a haunting atmosphere that sinks its hooks into you. Once you start watching, it's nearly impossible to avert your eyes from the screen.

When it comes to the hardships Glass endures, Inarritu has created an absolute sense of believability. The bear that attacks him, for instance, doesn't look like a CGI animal; it looks as though he's really being mauled. That the scene is shot in a long take adds to the verisimilitude, as does the nice little touch of having the animal stick its nose in the camera and fog up the lens. Similarly, when Glass floats uncontrollably down a roiling river, it truly does appear that Leonardo DiCaprio is being washed away. The freezing cold and pummeling wind in the remote locations where the story takes place are so clearly captured that you practically get shivers watching it. Such inhospitable conditions are rendered beautiful by the authenticity with which they are depicted. Not a conventional beauty, mind you, but a dark one. Much as severe lightning storms are beautiful to look at, The Revenant offers scary sights that are weirdly entrancing. It also makes beautiful scenery – landscapes, vistas, forests and streams – look threatening. Magnificently photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, the film toys with your every notion of beauty and majesty, virtually turning them inside out.

Much credit must also go to Leonardo DiCaprio, whose performance is nothing short of remarkable. Rendered partially immobile and speechless for a significant chunk of the story, Glass often resorts to crawling and grunting as he carries out his mission to get even. The actor makes you feel every ounce of struggle his character endures. You forget you're watching one of the biggest movie stars in the world and simply experience Glass's journey, both physically and emotionally.

The Revenant has at least half a dozen “big” scenes, any one of which would provide sufficient excitement for most movies. Having them all together in one film ensures that you never get a break. Nor should you. Glass certainly doesn't. Even if it's not always easy to watch, The Revenant is a powerful, unforgettable motion picture that packs a wallop you'll need some time to recover from.

( out of four)

The Revenant is rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 36 minutes.

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