Leonardo DiCaprio. Or Di-CRAP-io, as I used to call him. Between Titanic and Inception, I avoided his movies like they were pregnant ex-girlfriends. Even the trailers seemed enough to get under my skin. And if he happened to be doing a southern accent, I wanted to claw my ears off like the bear in this movie. I suppose I should thank Christopher Nolan for seeing talent I clearly did not, because now one of my favorite DiCaprio performances is in Django Unchained (where he speaks in a – GASP! – southern accent!). But if ever there was a time where the old me could have lasted an entire movie on account of him having very little dialogue, then The Revenant is that movie.
Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a group of animal trappers into the woods to escape pursuing Native Americans. While hunting for food, Glass is attacked (quite viciously) by a mother grizzly bear protecting her cubs. After nearly getting shredded to death, the rest of the group builds a makeshift stretcher and carries him with them into the mountains. As the snowy conditions get worse, they discuss leaving Glass behind so the rest of the team can get away faster. Finally Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the most unbalanced of the team, warns of impending (and non-existent) danger, causing the team to leave Glass for dead. Only he doesn’t die. And soon enough, he crawls his way out of his situation and ventures off on a feral journey of revenge.
The bear. She’s big, she’s mean, and she’s digital. But that’s okay. It’s a very brutal and hyper-realistic scene. One that couldn’t have been achieved with a live-action bear. And it does for the woods what Jaws did for the water. Just when you think the worst is over, you’re proven dead wrong. It’s filmed in what seems like a single take and goes on for about five straight minutes. And it’s not just the physical brutality. The scene also conveys the psychological trauma Glass goes through while fighting for his life. It’s a scene that not only changes the character, it changes the audience.
As for the non-bear characters, they’re just as superbly written and acted. Top marks have to go to both Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, re-uniting from Inception as hero and villain respectively. Tom Hardy is unrecognizable in both appearance and voice as Fitzgerald, creating a villain so intensely hateable that I had to exercise restraint whenever he was onscreen. And Leonardo DiCaprio’s mostly non-speaking performance shows a significant measure of growth for someone I used to despise, further proving the theory that actors only get better as they get older.
The movie is quite long (156 minutes), and gets a bit on the slow side around two-thirds of the way through. But it begins well and ends well and keeps you invested until the big finish. Leonardo DiCaprio proves that he can carry a movie whether he’s running his mouth (The Wolf of Wall Street) or keeping it shut (this movie). And if you see this in the winter, you may find yourself cringing at the insanely harsh conditions his character has to suffer through. Just as long as you don’t run out and buy a bunch of bear traps when it’s over, you should enjoy this movie as much as I did.
4 out of 5