What better way to start off the year than with an actual good movie. For those who do not know, Fuck You It’s January is the month studios dump their leftovers from fall, films that have no hope of recouping cost, been on the shelf for years, and ones they simply do not care about. Before the inevitable schlock storm I will endure starting tomorrow with The Forest, I was fortunate enough to discover The Revenant came out amid the garbage. Was it the last hope I have for a good movie this month or has my suffering only just begun?
Following a bear attack in the Dakota wilds, Glass, played by Amsterdam, is left for dead and his son killed by the treacherous Fitzgerald, played by Charles Bronson. On sheer will he survives and embarks on a quest for revenge, making his way back to civilization through hostile territory.
Revenant is what Hateful 8 would have been if Quentin Tarantino were an indie artist type. Both movies are very similar with their themes of revenge, racial conflict, and abundance of landscape shots. Rather than use revenge as a means to an end in story, the film takes on spiritual aspects. Mysticism and nature play a big part as the natural harmony of the wild is disturbed come the advent of the Louisiana Purchase. Pioneers encroach on Amerindian land, taking resources and upsetting the balance, prompting local tribes to retaliate. This sets off an endless cycle of revenge to a point no side is better than the other. The pioneers are trying to make a living, but end up destroying the environment. And the Amerindians want to protect their lands, but horribly mutilate and kill the pioneers. Both sides must go against what is right to survive until everyone is dead and there is nothing left but shades of grey, the balance restored.
The movie explores the idea of natural balance in regards to revenge. It makes a point that whatever happens is simply fate, an inevitable outcome that cannot be avoided. What counts in the end is how you behave throughout your life. In the movie, good characters endure a lot of torment, but those who did bad things are eventually punished far more severely. It is karmic retribution in the purest sense of the word. Even if you attain success from amoral actions, you get what is coming. It is just a matter of submitting to inevitability and letting whatever happens happen. What is good stays good and the bad is redressed. Loose threads always tie themselves up like the movie’s many story arcs. To fully explain would mean giving away a lot of what makes it great.
The process of watching, however, can be difficult because Revenant takes a long time to get to anything important. A majority of the runtime is dedicated to scenes of Howard Hughes literally crawling through the wilderness and surviving for days at a time. There were quite a few key moments along the way, but between those are long shots of him walking up hills, flashing back to the past, and more crawling. There is maybe an hour’s worth of filler that could have easily left out and it would not have changed anything.
Though Hateful 8 was beautiful to look at thanks to the use of real film, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu made the simpler choice and just shot places that look amazing with his signature finesse. Winter never looked so good with wide shots of mountains, rivers, and forests at the right time of day to make them appear dream-like. Close-ups on the actors and environments are some of the better shots. You see every detail in the underbrush, grimy bearded faces, and frosted plants in stasis. While it is beautiful, Revenant is also a very physical movie that has an aura many movies struggle to convey. Thanks to the cinematography, you really feel what the characters are going through as they wade through snow or run around in wet woolen clothes in the middle of winter. If you think cold weather is nice, this movie will make it seem horrible.
The visceral aspects of the film would not be without the dedication of the cast. I cannot imagine what they must have gone through. Calvin Candy’s Oscar is well overdue and he once again knocks it out of the park. Bane had a great turn as the villain and I expected nothing less. The real standouts for me were Domhall Gleeson as Henry and Will Plouter as a young Jim Bridger. The former has come into his own in recent years with Frank, Ex Machina, and Force Awakens, and this instance is no different, playing an Army officer dedicated to his job and men. The latter shows promise as a naïve and very green pioneer that has a long way to go before reaching the heights of legend associated with the real figure.
If you are like me and know of the garbage that usually comes out in January, watch The Revenant to remind you that good movies exist. It is a provocative film that has a lot to say on karma, revenge, and environmental balance. Without those elements and the artistic choices in the cinematography, it would be just another survival epic. If the 156 minute runtime is too much for you to handle, Force Awakens is still out and still awesome.