THE MOVIE GUY: ‘The Revenant’ is impressive but cold

Published 10:47 pm Thursday, January 7, 2016

Even as the director was collecting last year’s Best Picture Oscar for “Birdman,” industry insiders were already talking about Alejandro González Iñárritu’s next project; a historical tale of survival and revenge in the American West that looked great on paper, but was proving to be a nightmare to shoot. Fast forward one year and the troubled production finally arrives in theaters. “The Revenant” turns out to be a very good film, and one that has a very real shot of garnering some more Oscar love for its director.

This is the tale of a band of frontier trappers trying to get their pelts back home. They are being hunted by a band of angry Native Americans, so when their guide, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a bear, the trappers decide to split up. A few of the men agree to stay back with Glass until he dies while the rest of the trappers move on.

One of the trappers, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) doesn’t want to wait for Glass to finally give up the ghost. He murders Glass’ son, concocts a lie to fool his partner (Will Poulter) and then leaves Glass to die alone in the wilderness.

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Glass doesn’t die.

He drags himself out of his grave and literally crawls across the American frontier, spurred on by thoughts of vengeance and a dogged refusal to quit, no matter what obstacles are placed in his way.

“The Revenant” does a masterful job of making the audience feel just how difficult this revenge journey will be. Thanks to some superb cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, the wilderness vistas loom impossibly large and hostile, making our hero’s journey all the more impressive. They are also quite beautiful; truly capturing the majesty of a landscape that was mostly untouched by human occupation.

The action sequences also generate lots of cinematic tension. The long tracking shots employed in the early battles between the trappers and the Native Americans are every bit as impressive as anything Iñárritu created during “Birdman.” The bear attack proves to be one of the most vicious fights ever committed to film, and the final showdown between Glass and Fitzgerald is edge-of-your-seat stuff — proof that this is a master filmmaker at work.

If the film has a fault, it’s found in the emotional connections between the characters. That’s somewhat understandable as Glass doesn’t say much and spends most of the film struggling without anybody else to help him. The winter cinematography also makes the film feel emotionally cold.

That issue could be a deal-breaker for some audiences, but for those who are interested in a compelling story, filled with great acting performances, breathtaking cinematography and a director who is certainly proving that he is adept at making Oscar-worthy films, “The Revenant” proves to be one of the best films of the year.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at