Some movies can be described in one word, and “The Revenant” (Thursday, Sept. 17, on FX) is one of them. And that word is “grueling.”
Which is not to knock the film at all, but it’s a gritty and true story of survival that requires the viewer to have a strong constitution at key points, even with the editing needed for a commercial-television presentation.
Leonardo DiCaprio justfiably won an Oscar as Hugh Glass, a 19th-century frontier guide who leads a group of trappers into dangerous territory. First, they come under attack from a native tribe — then, Glass has a face-off with a ferocious grizzly bear. And that almost becomes “face off” literally, so vicious is that sequence. If you saw other moviegoers leave their seats as it unfolded in theaters, you priobably were not surprised.
The man is so critically injured, most of the others leave him behind when that seemingly inevitable time comes — but miraculously (and it truly is miraculous), he manages to survive, with a powerful taste for revenge against those who deserted him.
The somewhat lengthy “The Revenant” unquestionably is one of the biggest acting challenges DiCaprio has gotten, since he eventually has to perform much of it without dialogue, given the type and extent of the injuries his character suffers. As also proven by “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” which earned him an Oscar the year before he won another for directing this, Alejandro G. Inarritu knows how to plumb the depths of his actors’ abilities.
Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and (as Glass’ son) Forrest Goodluck are among other notables in the cast, but there’s little doubt “The Revenant” is built principally as a vehicle for DiCaprio … as was “Man in the Wilderness” for Richard Harris. Based on the same story, that similar film from almost 50 years ago was tough in its own right, but comparing that to “The Revenant” confirms how much farther the sensibilities of moviemakers have gone since.
Another key player here is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, a major contributor (and yet another Oscar winner here) through his camera techniques that underscore and enhance the mood. The sound technicians also deserve kudos, particularly for the bear-attack sequence that’s all but guaranteed to make you cringe from what you hear as well as see.
“The Revenant” is assuredly grim and visceral going, but for those who can stay with it, and for those who root for Leonardo DiCaprio — within his roles, or in his career in general — it has its rewards.