I had to put out of my mind all the lunacy of leftist Hollywood propaganda, the subtle messages within the film about the awe and majestic dominance of nature and Native Americans and Sean Penn’s associations with both the director and lead actors. But it wasn’t that hard to overlook those minor issues because the essential story contained within The Revenant was just jaw-dropping and a game changer for American cinema. The Revenant is the Ben Hur of our 21st century. It is our Citizen Kane. It is our Gone with the Wind. It is something that I didn’t think was possible in the modern studio system and it emphatically granted Leonardo DiCaprio the unequaled designation as one of the world’s greatest actors. Politics aside—DiCaprio did great work—his portrayal of Hugh Glass was monstrously bold and awe inspiring—brimming with sheer masculinity. It was a movie done with the greatest love imaginable for such a hard topic and controversial time period. The Revenant was a film where everything works, and actually matched the marketing previews. The opening scene was a battle containing several one shot tracks that I can’t see being duplicated by even the most skilled filmmakers any time soon. It was ambitious, bold, sincere, and technically superior in every way that a movie can be. It was and will always be cinematic genius stepping beyond contemporary philosophies to a thread of common human experience rarely ever touched by all but the most tenacious human beings.
The Revenant is a 2015 American biographical western film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu set in 1823 Montana and South Dakota, which was inspired by the experiences of frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass. The screenplay was written by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu, based in part on Michael Punke‘s The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson.
Development of the film began in August 2001 when Akiva Goldsman purchased Punke’s manuscript with the intent to produce the film. The film was originally set to be directed by Park Chan-wook with Samuel L. Jackson in mind to star, and later by John Hillcoat with Christian Bale in negotiations to star. Both directors left the project, and Iñárritu signed on to direct in August 2011. In April 2014, after several delays in production due to other projects, Iñárritu confirmed that he was beginning work onThe Revenant and that DiCaprio would play the lead role. It is the second on-screen collaboration of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy (the first being Inception). Principal photography began in October 2014; delays associated with location and crew challenges resulted in its end date moving from May to August 2015.
The Revenant premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on December 16, 2015 and had a limited release on December 25, 2015, followed by a wide release on January 8, 2016. The film received highly positive reviews from critics, who praised DiCaprio’s acting and Lubezki’s cinematography.
With all that said, I had previously stated that I hoped The Revenant would be good enough to resurrect many stories from that particular time period in the American West, from 1750 to around 1830—which was a very key time for American philosophic development. Understanding this time period helps define America’s place within the world as most of the nations around the globe were fighting it out on the plains of the American West. The trouble is, doing such a thing is incredibly difficult. Capturing the ruggedness of mountainous terrain in the hard months of winter under terrible shooting conditions, snow storms, avalanches, animal attacks, freezing water and many other hardships is something actors and film crews aren’t keen to endure—so my hopes of taking the Allen Ekert novels and getting them put up on the silver screen are faint because of the reality of such difficult shoots. This novel relative to the mentioned Ekert work is simple. The story of Hugh Glass is more focused and isolated as opposed to the grand scale of The Frontiersman, which featured Simon Kenton, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Tecumseh and Blue Jacket all with roles similar to the hardships of Glass. Given the amount of money it took to put The Revenant on screen—approximately $135 million dollars it would take nearly ten times more than that to turn The Frontiersman into a novel with the same ambition—which is why nobody does it. So give Alejandro G. Iñárritu credit, he was grossly over budget and he pissed off most of Hollywood including old friends to make the picture, but he stuck to it and delivered a film that should be profitable in the long run and earn the studios that supported him with some reluctance a share in the Academy Awards that will be granted to The Revenant. The first weekend the film did well, nearly outselling The Force Awakens which is no small feat in January during the first round of NFL playoff games. The theater I saw it in was sold out on a Saturday afternoon and that experience was so good that I’ll write a separate review just for that. But there was no question, there was interest in this film and people wanted to see it—and when they did, they left the theater with more than they anticipated. Even saying all that, there is no way to spoil the film because it’s not so much about the plot as much as it’s the experience of viewing the world through the character of Hugh Glass.
The Revenant is the type of film that will still be talked about thirty years from now—even 100 years—it is a must see movie. It is gory in a way only hunters really understand, but the information is relevant to everyone. It was gory without being disgusting. The way that the hard nature of the world beyond civilization was captured is worth the price of admission alone. There is no downside to The Revenant, it is history shown relatively non-politically with honesty and love and it deserves the support of everyone who loves to watch movies. It was about love and romance without ever showing it and it was about honor even when all the tapestries of society had been stripped away. It is one of those rare movies that really put the audience into the character’s very souls. Give Alejandro González Iñárritu and Leonardo DiCaprio their Academy Awards now. Heck, give Tom Hardy his best supporting actor award as well. There is nothing wrong with The Revenant and everything right, sound editing, music, cinematography, set design, script, visual effects–everything. I’d suggest buying a movie ticket today and going to see it as a two and a half hour vacation to a vast wilderness adventure. It will likely leave you a different person upon your return—just as a hard backpacking trip into rugged country often does.
Rich “Cliffhanger” Hoffman
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