Film Review: ‘The Revenant’

The Revenant Movie Reivew
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Leonardo DiCaprio plays an avenging 19th-century frontiersman in Alejandro G. Inarritu's brutal, beautiful yet emotionally stunted epic.

Few prestige directors have so fully committed to the notion of cinema as an endurance test as Alejandro G. Inarritu, and he pushes himself, the audience and an aggrieved 19th-century frontiersman well beyond their usual limits in “The Revenant.” Bleak as hell but considerably more beautiful, this nightmarish plunge into a frigid, forbidding American outback is a movie of pitiless violence, grueling intensity and continually breathtaking imagery, a feat of high-wire filmmaking to surpass even Inarritu and d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on last year’s Oscar-winning “Birdman.” Yet in attempting to merge a Western revenge thriller, a meditative epic in the Terrence Malick mold, and a lost-in-the-wilderness production of near-Herzogian insanity, “The Revenant” increasingly succumbs to the air of grim overdetermination that has marred much of Inarritu’s past work: It’s an imposing vision, to be sure, but also an inflated and emotionally stunted one, despite an anchoring performance of ferocious 200% commitment from Leonardo DiCaprio.

Hard to recognize though he may be under so much blood, grime and unwashed mountain-man mane, DiCaprio will boost the commercial prospects of Fox’s not-so-merry Christmas Day release, which will lean heavily on its award-friendly pedigree to overcome audience resistance to its considerable length and extreme carnage. While the many, many acts of human and animal savagery are doled out judiciously over the 156-minute running time, they’re attenuated to a brutal, can-you-top-this degree, captured in the long, unbroken takes that have become Inarritu and Lubezki’s visual signature (though minus the one-shot digital gimmickry of “Birdman”). The result is a film of robust, overwhelming physicality, filled with striking passages of pure cinema, yet ultimately in thrall to a crude, self-admiring sensibility that keeps catharsis at bay.

The film was adapted by Inarritu and Mark L. Smith from Michael Punke’s 2002 fact-based novel, which is set in 1823-24 in the territories that now make up the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. While the film never specifies exactly where and when it’s taking place (shooting took place in Canada and Argentina), it faithfully centers around a fictionalized version of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a real-life man of the West who works for the Rocky Mountain Fur Co., skillfully guiding beaver trappers deep into hostile terrain. Theirs is a life of hard work, scarce rations and frequent peril, as we witness firsthand when the men are attacked without warning by Arikara warriors. The film establishes its stylistic approach immediately in this harrowing early sequence, beginning with a single unbroken shot in which tension mounts by the second, only to be relieved by the arrow that comes hurtling out of nowhere to connect with a man’s throat.

As the surviving trappers flee with whatever pelts they can salvage, we feel not just ambushed but surrounded — by the attackers lurking just off screen, by the dense trees looming in Lubezki’s deep-focus compositions, and perhaps most of all by the astonishing sound design, which transforms the music of babbling brooks, rustling trees, thunderous hoofbeats, falling bodies and anguished screams into a wild symphony of woodland chaos. These sounds will be joined, in due course, by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto’s artfully modulated, never-repetitive score, which begins as a series of low, synth-like rumbles that gather melodic force and power as the film progresses.

In short, “The Revenant” must be appreciated first and foremost as a sensory and aesthetic marvel, a brutal hymn to the beauty and terror of the natural world that exerts a hypnotic pull from the opening frame. Its deficiencies as a human drama and a metaphysical meditation will take a bit longer to emerge. Glass is traveling with his teenage son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a descendant of the Pawnee tribe on his mother’s side, and the two regard each other with an understandably fierce protectiveness. The other trappers, led by the principled Capt. Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), prove respectful enough of father and son, with the singular exception of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a nasty ne’er-do-well who makes no secret of the fact that his commitment to the party’s mission is purely mercenary.

And so there’s trouble afoot even before Glass ventures out alone and is mauled by a mammoth grizzly bear, in what must surely be the most squirmingly visceral scene of an animal attack on a human committed to the screen, all the more realistic and protracted for being shot in a single take. Glass kills the bear, but not before it all but kills him, leaving horrific wounds in his chest, back and throat, and rendering him unable to speak or walk. The arduous task of carrying the injured party over the rocky and eventually snowy terrain soon threatens the party’s safety, and it’s decided that Glass will be left behind with Hawk, Fitzgerald and a young man, Jim Bridger (Will Poulter, excellent), so that he can receive a proper burial when he inevitably dies.

Things don’t go according to plan, to say the least, and the full, murderous measure of Fitzgerald’s ruthlessness is revealed as he kills Hawk and leaves Glass for dead, with the pitiably naive Bridger in tow. But the lust for vengeance becomes its own form of survival instinct, and Glass manages to claw his way out of a shallow grave, find food, water and shelter, and stay alive long enough for his wounds to begin to heal. Since his character can barely talk — and has almost no one to talk to — DiCaprio must convey Glass’ interior journey almost entirely through grunts, wheezes and sharp, pained exhalations of breath (often misting up the camera in poetic closeups). Often he does this while dragging his clawed and battered body over rocks and soil — a preferrable method of transport, really, to being washed downstream by a turbulent river, or vaulted off a cliff on the back of a horse. These and other unimaginable detours, plus the near-constant threat of death from predators, starvation and exposure, coalesce into a potent study of human endurance and isolation that makes up the film’s strong midsection (finely assembled by Inarritu’s regular editor, Stephen Mirrione).

An unofficial retread of Richard C. Safarian’s “Man in the Wilderness” (1971), which starred Richard Harris as Glass, Inarritu’s film deviates enough from Punke’s novel to have warranted a “based in part” credit, and several of the changes involve the various indigenous characters hovering on the periphery of the drama — including Hikuc (Navajo actor Arthur Redcloud), a traveler who comes to Glass’ aid, and Elk Dog (Duane Howard), an Arikara warrior trying to track down his daughter, Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o), who has been captured by a band of French trappers. But the most significant alteration here is the wholesale invention of Hawk — a touch that aims to humanize Glass, nudge him closer to the right side of history, and instill in him an even more primal hunger for revenge.

Yet through no fault of DiCaprio’s or Goodluck’s, the father-son relationship never develops sufficient emotional conviction to achieve the desired impact; it’s immediately clear that Hawk exists solely so he can die and, as in any melodrama pivoting on the loss of a child, provide an extra twist of the emotional knife. Here and there, Inarritu employs ghostly flashbacks and hallucinations to convey Glass’ love for Hawk and his Pawnee mother, but these visions feel like spectral banalities — and a reminder, in some respects, of the communing-with-the-dead antihero of “Biutiful.” While “The Revenant” is many cuts above that career nadir, it does mark the director’s return to the same glum mood of near-cosmic despair (also apparent in “21 Grams” and “Babel”) after his rare foray into cynical showbiz comedy with “Birdman.”

In all these films, the virtuosity of the storytelling can’t quite disguise a leadenness and lack of modulation that suggest Inarritu’s chief talent is for bludgeoning his audience — sometimes artfully, sometimes merely artily — into submission. The final reckoning between Glass and Fitzgerald is grippingly staged, and audiences hoping to see payback exacted in full will find satisfaction. But here and elsewhere, Lubezki’s camera, with its creeping, darting movements and stealthy 360-degree turns, doesn’t seem to observe the action so much as instigate it. The long-take action sequences begin to feel almost sadistic in their pre-planning. Developments that should be shocking instead take on an air of grinding predictability.

And at every step, the performances suggest a behind-the-scenes experience that couldn’t have been much less arduous than the characters’ on-screen ordeal. Whether he’s sinking his teeth into freshly killed meat, cauterizing his wounds with a torch, or stripping naked and sheathing himself in a still-warm animal carcass, DiCaprio has never been this feral or suffered for his art quite so vividly on screen. His frequently wordless, stripped-to-the-bone turn may not match the live-wire energy and inventiveness of his histrionics in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but it’s as scrupulously, agonizingly detailed a portrait of human suffering as you could ever want to see.

Hardy, whose dialogue is perhaps the least intelligible element of the sound design, makes a coolly unnerving villain whose ruthlessness lies in his gift for bullying persuasion as well as his brute strength. He has another excellent on-screen opponent in Gleeson (having quite a year with “Ex Machina,” “Brooklyn” and the forthcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), cast very effectively against type as a righteous man who takes Glass’ mistreatment as a personal insult. And Howard makes a fleeting impression as the Arikara hunter who emerges every now and then to assert the presence of his people in a movie that is ultimately not a tale of an indigenous tragedy, but of a white man’s retribution.

Perhaps the most useful comparison in that respect is with “The New World,” Malick’s 2005 film about the initially charmed, ultimately tragic first encounter between the Jamestown settlers and the Native American tribes whose way of life they so drastically upended. (Both films were shot by Lubezki and feature ace contributions by production designer Jack Fisk and costume designer Jacqueline West.) Those relations have soured irretrievably by the time Inarritu’s movie picks up roughly two centuries later, when the scourge of American imperialism has long since bloodied and corrupted this once-Edenic paradise. But the key difference here is not just of setting, but also of sensibility. The title of “The Revenant” aims to give this renascent avenger a spiritual dimension, but in attempting to steer his dark, fatalistic vision toward something genuinely contemplative and cathartic, Inarritu has managed to appropriate the beauty of Malick’s filmmaking but none of its sublimity — another word for which might be humility. There is plenty of amazement here, to be sure, but all too little in the way of grace.

Film Review: 'The Revenant'

Reviewed at Samuel Goldwyn Theater, Beverly Hills, Nov. 23, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 156 MIN.  


A 20th Century Fox release of a Regency Enterprises presentation, in association with Ratpac Entertainment, of a New Regency/Anonymous Content/M Prods./Appian Way production. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon, James W. Skotchdopole. Executive producers, Brett Ratner, James Packer, Jennifer Davisson, David Kanter, Markus Barmettler, Philip Lee, Jake Myers. Co-producers, Alex G. Scott, Scott Robertson, Doug Jones, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris.


Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. Screenplay, Mark L. Smith, Inarritu, based in part on the novel by Michael Punke. Camera (Technicolor, Arri Alexa digital, Panavision widescreen), Emmanuel Lubezki; editor, Stephen Mirrione; music, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto; additional music, Bryce Dessner; music supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein; production designer, Jack Fisk; supervising art directors, Michael Diner, Isabelle Guay; art director, Laurel Bergman; set decorator, Hamish Purdy; costume designer, Jacqueline West; sound (Dolby Atmos), Chris Duesterdiek; supervising sound editors, Martin Hernandez, Randy Thom, Lon Bender; sound designers, Jon Title, Mary Larry, Dino Dimuro; re-recording mixers, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano, Thom; special effects supervisor, Cam Waldbauer; special effects coordinators, Stewart Bradley, P. David Benediktson; visual effects supervisor, Rich McBride; visual effects producer, Ivy Agregan; visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic, Image Engine, MPC, Cinesite, Technicolor VFX, Secret Lab, Green Light, Soho, Vitality Visual Effects; stunt coordinators, Doug Coleman, Scott Ateah, Brian Machleit, Mark Vanselow; fight coordinator, Adam Hart; assistant director, Scott Robertson; casting, Francine Maisler.


Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Duane Howard, Arthur Redcloud, Melaw Nakehk'o, Grace Dove, Lukas Haas, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner. (English, French dialogue)

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  1. Queen bee says:

    Well I read a site head line that Saud he was raped by a bear. He was maled. Buried alive. Shot at several times floated down a icy river ate raw fish ate raw buffalo liver ate snow sweated it out in a sweat lodge rescued a indian princess rode a horse off a cliff and still got the guy who killed his son. Only thing that didn’t happen was him surviving a metor hit in the head

  2. Aki Tora says:

    At its core the movie is profoundly nihilistic, conveying the feel of a man who has lost everything meaningful to him.

    Revenge is the only reality left to the man, and was served-up cold.

  3. Dinh Le says:

    Leo was too heavy for the cast was seriously wounded by a big bear…and suffer by feminine. ..but in the movie he way too heavy for that cast….kind of boring movie for me…

  4. “Inarritu’s movie picks up roughly two centuries later, when the scourge of American imperialism has long since bloodied and corrupted this once-Edenic paradise.”

    News for you — it was never “Edenic” (nothing ever is). That “scourge of American imperialism” simply replaced the numberless scourges which came before and will always come in the human race, including cruelty and conquest (yes, imperialism) imposed by indigenous cultures on one another. And you are always free to disown and remove yourself from the fruits of that “scourge.”

  5. Last of The Mohicans way better, yawned my way through this

  6. Johan Pretorius says:

    What a mother load of hyped bs in the first degree to the power of 10. Waist of time and money to say the least. This director has a frightfully warped sense of life.

  7. Guy says:

    The movie was implausible on so many levels- the large mountain ranges are only prevelant in western north America- French fur traders operated in eastern north America- any northwoodsmen knows getting wet in frigid conditions can be a death sentence- the whole movie people are entering cold water and soakin their clothes equipment and horses- was ree Indians supposed to mean cree Indians- were they ever in proximity to the paunee and rocky mountains nothing in this movie makes sense if you know anything about early American history end frontier life – its total hollywood

  8. Truly a precise review. Thank you, Sir Justin Chang.

  9. Boris-TheSeries says:

    visually stunning (please make yourself a favour, watch it at a theater not on TV of any size), many scenes provides plenty of emotions. What I most disliked is that the resilience of Glass is strecthed a bit too far given how torn is skin is shown to be, how long he stays in icy water how much he does (not) sleep in closed places. Maybe a less injured Glass would have added that bit of realism that is lacking (plus: some more father-son relationship until the death of Hawk that the viewer hardly perceive as having a special connection with the father). In any case definitely this is art worth watching, this truly seventh art.

  10. Frank McLaughlin says:

    Excellent cinematography and sound,the scenery is superb but lacking in just about every other aspect. Not much of a story and in reality hypothermia would probably claimed most of the cast given their proclivity for wallowing in icy waters;gangrene and hypothermia would likely have seen off Hugh Glass long before any human attackers had the opportunity.

    One has to suspend their disbelief in order to sit through this film.

    • Lang Thomas says:

      Perfect analysis. Sound track engineers must have worked hard to make understanding what little dialogue exists most unintelligible. Oh yeah, three shots from flint action pistol whilst riding horse, give me a break. Man killing bear with knife after being mauled most difficult

  11. William Mitchell says:

    Technically brilliant but seriously lacking in substance beyond the predictable Hollywood’ “revenge” theme.

  12. I would really like to know how a black powder single shot pistol can fire 3 times without reloading, and where in South Dakota looks like the secenery in the film. Typical hollywood film, not worth a dang. I’ve seen vintage westerns that were better than this movie.

  13. Star Thornton says:

    Tom Hardy was outstanding. He does a great job with his part. The movie was too long, way too long. Great scenery. Awful fake horses, bears and wolves. DiCaprio can’t ride and looks silly on a horse. As far as his performance being Oscar worthy…no way. He had a few lines and suffered a lot. The movie was hyped and frankly, it’s boring. Michael Fassbender had a vastly more complex part in Steve Jobs and far outshines.

  14. Anjelica says:

    Worst movie ever. Feel like I was sucked in by the media hype. Don’t see this as Leonardo’s best role. Save your money

    • David says:

      It may not be DiCaprios best role but it was the best performance of those who were nominated. He stole the show. Dicaprio is great in this.

  15. Arline says:

    DiCaprio was wonderful! Film not so much.

  16. David Vale says:

    Answer to Bradford I have a good attention span but the film was so disjointed. For example as Mr glass managed to just crawl by using just his arms to the top of a cliff to look down to water the next scene by some MIRACLE he is actually drinking from the water. Was I watching the bioni cman. What a load of drivel.
    He was near death one moment and a mountaineer the next. Utter tosh

  17. David Vale says:

    Just seen the revenant what a load of rubbish. 2 hours I can’t believe they could stretch it out so long. Stay at home.

    • Bradford says:

      This movie isn’t meant for people with low attention spans. And unfortunately, those are the people who gripe and moan that this drama isn’t action packed for each of its 156 minute run-time. It’s a shame that people cannot focus long enough to appreciate good cinema.

      • Daniel Carvalho says:

        Thank you, Mr.Branford! You are absolutely correct. A lot of people who complain about this movie not being an action film or for it being too long seem to be quite the impatient and hyperactive(short attention span). We must admire the detail and the works put into this film,a DJ to see the process of this film.

  18. nico says:

    This review says it all!

  19. Debbe says:

    An excellently written review of The Revenant. However, I feel that the lack of grace mentioned at the end of the review was intentional. The movie clearly illustrates the philosophy behind Naturalism, and I feel it was also an allegory for the brutal things humans have done and continue to do to each other for stuff. The beauty of the natural world, which provides sustenance while at the same time operates with violent indifference to mankind, was breathtaking and mystical. It was brilliantly juxtaposed against the violent indifference of mankind towards mankind, but there was no beauty or mystical elements in that aspect – just right-in-your-face realism.The relentlessness of the violence caused the man sitting a few seats away from me in the theatre to moan, “Oh no.” If only people would moan “Oh no” in the real world. Until we can feel the same repulsion and exhaustion brought on by The Reverent when we consider the way we treat each other, there can be no grace.

    • austin says:

      I agree. The reviewer’s bias at the end about the white man upheaving nature, “when the scourge of American imperialism has long since bloodied and corrupted this once-Edenic paradise” completely misses the point of the movie. Its not about White man or Indian, its about brutality vs beauty that is present in all nature. I mean, the symbolism was almost knocking us over the head about how DiCaprio is basically reduced to an animal, wearing a bearskin 90% of the movie, literally going inside a horse, etc.

      Humans turn into beasts when letting our animalistic urges for violence overtake us

  20. Old Salt says:

    Was not an OSCAR performance by DiCaprio….!!!

  21. Lisa says:

    This movie is boring, you’ll be sleep in no time, LoL!

  22. Heather Moore says:

    Saw the movie yesterday. Could not disagree more with this review. You will be on the edge of your seat for the full 156 minutes. This movie is destined for an Oscar. This movie is so bad.. I had to purchase my tickets in advance to ensure a seat (sold out on past attempts). If I were to critique Chang’s review of the Revenant
    ..I would give it 5 thumbs down.

  23. I could not disagree with Justin Chang more. I was left wondering if we saw the same movie. I am not a big fan of wilderness films, nor really of Leonardo DiCaprio. I attended the film with my husband, simply because it was late, and few other films were showing near midnight. Each of us probably watches 50 films a year. We’re both critical, educated people and cinema is our major form of entertainment. We were mesmerized by the beauty and suspense of this film, which we both found to have moments of true transcendence and grace…exactly what Chang insisted was absent from the film. We viewed a late-night showing, but were never bored nor sleepy during the 156 minutes of the film. I was annoyed by the fact that Chang attributed every strength of the film to those working in collaboration with Inarritu, such as the editing of Mirrione. Most Directors use editors, but we rarely see the success of various sequences attributed to them, nor their names even mentioned in reviews. The bleakness of the film was another strength. Perhaps Chang simply prefers more cheerful fare. I don’t go to a film like The Revenant expecting to be cheered, and you shouldn’t either. But this film is cinema at its best – from the bleakly beautiful cinematography to extraordinary performances by everyone involved. See the film yourself. Chang is way off the mark here.

    • Old Salt says:

      Revenant was Hollywood PHONEY as HELL…
      The frontiersman Hugh Glass didn’t FREEZE to death in the river…etc…
      No frostbite…no loss of fingers, toes, hands or even a foot to Gangrene.
      Crawled into a carcass…naked…and survived…
      After everything he went through and survived it seems he died at the end of
      the movie in the freezing snow as he sees an apparition of his dead Indian wife…?
      Is that what it takes to win a Golden Globe award…?
      The acting wasn’t that great!

  24. Maggie says:

    Geez why don’t you spoil it for those who haven’t seen it? Did you leave any part of the film out? Plus quite the Debbie Downer “review.” I’ve seen it and thought it amazing. Boo hiss

    • ilexlass says:

      I would not recommend it… left me feeling quite wilted… probably the intent … too brutally violent for my liking… and seemed to me the main point of the movie… also would have liked to have seen better character development between father and son… scenery was beautiful however

  25. The award nominaters didn’t seem to have your reservations on this work… being particularly impressed with Di Caprio’s contribution, on which I do acknowledge your complimentary comments.

  26. Dane says:

    Really, it was an Edenic paradise prior to European arrival? I guess we should tell that to the tribes that were mercilessly wiped out – man, woman and child – by each other, the massively unbalanced power relationships among tribes (does anyone talk about the Iroquois Confederation “imperialism”?), the cultural embrace of torture (capturing enemis so they can be slowly tortured, often stripping their skin off slowly, then burning them at the stake, sound Edenic?),…the purposeful kidnapping and enslavement by tribes, or the massive amount of starvation and death as natives struggled from one winter into another with little in the way of food supply. I’m always astonished by the perceptions and biases that make their way into media that have no basis is actual history. Edenic paradise? One can describe a scourge of American imperialism,or even equate the tortures inflicted by Europeans and natives, but going to the extreme and talking about an Edenic paradise lost is just a self-indulgent romantic fantasy viewed through a clouded contemporary lens, as much in excess as the grim aspects of the movie just reviewed.

  27. don sykes says:

    How about that ending when the Indian party along with the Chief’s daughter that Glass had gallantly saved just happened to be passing by at the crucial moment?

  28. sharpe12 says:

    Saw it last night. Outside of the bear scene it was total snooze fest. I kept looking at my watch begging for Glass to bite the dust. It was just a fancy remake of a million other movies. Good guy has something bad happen to him, he overcomes obstacles to get in position to take revenge, and then kills the bad guy. Real creative.

    • Bradford says:

      You do know that it is based off of a true story, right?

    • Lesa Holley says:

      You nailed it. It was way too long, and just dull. Yes, nature is beautiful, but what about the story? WHY should I care about these characters? Because I did not. I was rooting for the bear, and Glass’s death would have saved me some time that I will now never get back.

  29. vermontave says:

    Ok, so watched The Revenant screener a second time after watching it the first time last year.

    The good:
    -Great locations.
    -Great stunt choreography (not as good as Fury Road, but still pretty great)
    -Hardy was solid and had excellent accent; supporting cast was solid

    The bad:
    -Some of the acting — Sorry, but the whole Glass avenging his adopted son seemed off for some reason. Maybe the kid’s acting, maybe the directing — “act like sulky teenager!” — I don’t know. DiCaprio was there, but you park the guy behind a whisker ski-mask like that and half your communication with the audience just left the building. Hardy pulled it off (thanks voice coach), DiCaprio didn’t.
    -Some of the CGI was weak. The CGI bear was too big and moving too fast for too long. That and some other scenes distracted from otherwise authentic scenery and decent action.
    -A lot of story-implausibilities. I think the original 19th century dude, Glass, probably had a rough go on several occasions — he undoubtedly had bear scars to display — but otherwise wove-in some hear-say-based “fish-stories” to dress things up for the big story we saw depicted here. “Woodsman Detectives” would have interrogated Glass and tore his story to bits — my guess lol.
    -More on implausibilities: Didn’t buy the sleep-in-the-horse deal — bears would have been hibernating, but with all the wind depicted, hungry wolves would have picked up the scent easy, despite the cold, and had themselves an easy meal; and it’s pretty obvious that all the actors had dry suits on or something because they wouldn’t have lasted long walking around, floating around in that near freezing water, otherwise, wearing their wool pants and buffalo skins and what not.
    -“Son’s a girly little bizatch” — you know that always brings out the axes lol. Come on, really? See, that was the weakness, there, between DiCaprio and the kid’s performances — kid’s death wasn’t emotionally enough fully spur the revenge fight, they needed to throw in an extra line because nobody was super pissed off, yet. Weak lol.

    Anyway, I give The Revenant an OK rating. But could have been WAY better — a gift that kept on giving for decades. Oh well…

  30. Ron says:

    The spiritual dimension the director brings in The Revenant is its strength, in my opinion. The banality of revenge, adventurer stories has been told time again, and well enough. However, the harshness and indifference of the primitive world seems to force the metaphysical to surface. His hallucination of purpose, as revenge, is as real as his hallucinations of his dead family. The, almost pathetic hacking away between the two opposing characters does seem to be “grinding predictability”. However, it is within the context of an imposing, yet indifferent, presence: Nature.

    Witnessed from the film, it seems life, purpose, narrative, all become insignificant juxtaposed with the primitive force that caused our creation. And what we (or for heightened effect, think Hugh Glass) go through, whether the work we exert, or the experiences we suffer for, begs the question of existence: why? We, the audience, each become an individual revenant. The modernist aspect, relying deeply on existentialism, breathes new life into an otherwise exhausted genre (Western). And it wouldn’t have been possible without the insidious infusion of desperate spirituality with cutting catharsis. Especially at the end. Yikes

    • vermontave says:


      The good:
      -Cinematography was excellent

    • Ron says:

      Edits: unintentional comma @ “The, almost”.

      Also, forgot to bring together the “grinding predictability” as a metaphor for our own existence: our lives, and some may argue our stories, are completely characterized by “grinding predictability”. I believe that the film is almost aware of this, and poignantly points it out.

  31. Al Eng says:

    It seems professional reviewers want to see if they can top the movie in creativity. They fall short. This movie was a pleasure of the senses. Every scene is and was a work of art. They created a whole atmosphere in the story with special effects that viewed as no special effect. What I mean is all the scenes looked natural so you could not tell they were special effects. At least I think they were special effects. Colorful, Rich, Survival and a conclusion this film lives up to. I am no Decaprio fan but now I am. The costar Tom Hardy as well gives an award winning performance. I can’t say enough about this experience called The Revenant.

    • kc says:

      Exactly. Well said. This was the best movie I’ve seen in years. Not liking this you should seek some other line of employment if you’re a “film critic.” This was a total classic like “Bridge on the River Kwai” or “Dr. Zhivago.”

      • Maggie says:

        Aren’t movie critics usually disgruntled actors, writers or directors anyway? I agree with you KC and John B.

  32. John Blaska says:

    If this is your job, to critique movies and offer an educated/professional opinion or rating,,,yoy should QUIT IMMEDIATELY. This was an incredible movie and anyone expecting to see what they imagine of this story and think about Dicaprio, will leave well pleased. You sir, and your inflated ego need be ground beneath heal. You obviously wouldn’t know what a great movie is, If it came up behind you and bit you on your dumb ass.

  33. bensonsmusic says:

    If Hawks relationship with his dad would have been developed further then it would have a different film. The art of Revenant was painted with a larger brush. The plot wasnt the point.

  34. Kerri Moore says:

    Just got home from watching this today a bit disappointed could not understand some of the dialog the Americans don’t speak clearly & I had trouble understanding the story line got lost 6 out of 10 & thats only because of the scenery

    • jeanne says:

      I also found it hard to understand what little talking there was in this film. I really don’t know what all the hub bub is about this movie? I have seen way better cinematography, none of the scenes of the terrain took my breath away. I found it unbelievable at times ie sleeping with no blankets in frigid temperatures, etc. Was puzzled about where they were, one moment they are in a lush rain forest with fern, the next dry land country?? I didn’t know why opening scene couldn’t have said where/who they were…….I am a DiCaprio fan but was very disappointed in this film. I found it brutal, boring, and way too long. I get it the guy survived to avenge his son’s death a bit dramatic.

    • Al Eng says:

      What you missed in dialog does not matter. The film was not much on words. The film was about the beauty and savageness of man. The story line was about survival and revenge. It was really that simple. And simple to follow.

  35. I’m not a critic nor am I a big Decaprio fan here. I see this commercial often and every time I see it? I know this is Leonardo Decaprio’s Oscar, period. He looks, feels, wears and owns that role. Give the man credit where it’s due! It’s due!

    • ilexlass says:

      I think what the story is about is clear… but the use of violence was WAY over the top and there was not enough character development imho … more a film for men I’m guessing… I am a Leonardo DiCaprio fan but would not place this up with his other works which were, again imho, more worthy of an Oscar

  36. Eddie Murphy says:

    I agree completely with this reviewer’s impression of The Revenant. I would add that as one very familiar with life in the frozen wilderness as well as life under the pain of spinal injury and other insults to the nervous system, there’s no way under the stars that Glass would have recovered so quickly from his wounds. In fact, I would have expected to see him languishing as best he could for at least two weeks before finding the strength and energy to begin his monumental quest.

    Another very odd time-warp plays out when Glass crawls to the edge of a cliff to view the beautiful mountain stream below. Way way way below. So far below the tops of trees growing near the stream look a hundred yards away. And the climb down would be one met with no clear trail or path, and loads of rocks in the way. It would take a man in good physical condition the better part of several hours to find his way down. It would take Glass the better part of two or three days. Yet we cut from Glass at the top of the cliff to Glass at the bottom of the cliff, getting water. It’s still bright daylight. Hard to believe a man in his condition would recover strength and stamina so quickly. Because he wouldn’t.

    As the reviewer reflected much of the plot is predictable. If it weren’t for the incredibly beautiful scenery I would not have been as interested in finishing the film.

    • Khellan says:

      Regardless, history says he did. It took him six weeks to crawl, scratch, and slide his way back to Fort Kiowa, and the movie doesn’t portray this passage of time as well as it could have, but Hugh Glass really did survive being left to die by his companions after a savage bear attack, 200 miles from even the crudest of civilization, with no weapons, and wounds that would have killed 95% of people.

  37. NHBill says:

    I wanted to love this movie but the abundant flaws marred what could have been a gem.
    First there are the absurd healing properties of the Magical Indian.
    Not only did his herbs cure raging infections to a 22nd century degree it apparently cured a broken leg.
    That leg would have taken 6 months to heal under the care of a 21st Century Orthopedic.
    And yet with the ground still covered in snow our hero is running and riding horses.
    Then the many anachronisms became too much to bare.
    One of the more glaring the pyramid of Buffalo skulls.
    That level of slaughter did not take place for another 50 years, well after the Civil War.
    What ruined the stunning cinematography and excellent performances were the several scenes of actors in closeup riding rocking horses being pulled on dolly track.
    Somehow John Ford found a way to make movies without using rocking horses in the 1930’s.
    If all that didn’t ruin your suspension of disbelief the idea that he would have not only survived a grizzly attack but he would have survived TWO ATTACKS will do the trick.

    • I thought he was a goner when the Titanic sank.

      • Khellan says:

        Except the movie actually downplays what happened to Hugh Glass. Go look him up. It’s one of the most shocking, most brutal, and most amazing stories of surviving the impossible that we have on record. After the attack, he had completely exposed ribs on his back, and had to use maggots to eat the rotting flesh from his body so gangrene wouldn’t set in.

  38. Between the one-two punch of Lubezki’s breathtaking cinematography and DiCaprio’s riveting performance, this film knocked me out. Can’t wait to see it again. I loved the added dimension of Inarritu’s mystical dream sequences, which suggest that no matter how dismal this life may appear, there is a reason for everything. The Revenant transcends the genre Western and stands as a powerful testimony to humanity’s search for meaning.

  39. Adam Klugman says:

    This is not only a spot on assessment of failed, albeit well intended, film – it is also one of the best, most articulate film reviews I’ve ever read. It functions like literary criticism that is not just an expressed opinion, but an essential part of the artistic whole. Bravo, Mr Chang! I’m quite impressed! And thank you!

  40. Kat says:

    Totally agree about the contrast to Malick. Inarritu’s film is pseudo spiritual and attempts to be sublime only for the director’s self-glory and prestige. There is nothing humble or graceful about this kind of cinema. Inarritu needs to tone down his ego.

  41. Dan Olson says:

    Thorough review. Loved the movie. I think for me what stood out and remains after all the splendor is the fact that I felt the physical environment as if I were there. It made it very real to me. Made me miss Alaska.

  42. Simon says:

    I saw it last night and I agree with every word of your excellent review

  43. Sytze says:

    This movie does, what Hollywood fails to do. This is to innovate. Using the drawbacks of close up camera work, the condens on the lens, to flow into the next shot is sheer brilliance. This movie does not ask for character development, so much. Iñárritu leaves his signature, which is one of a kind. Your review completely misses the point of the movie and reeks of political influence.

  44. Tom says:

    so in other words, this version made the novel more politically correct by inventing characters. White man, bad. Red man, good. Oops. Can’t say that latter anymore.

  45. Jesus. Spoilers everywhere. I bet you were the kid who told his friends how Fight Club, The Usual Suspects and The 6th Sense ended just to be a dick. Luckily I’ve watched it before reading this.

  46. Bertie says:

    God damn with that sudden barrage of spoilers in the middle of a review. The mark of a bad reviewer when he can’t describe the film without spoiling it to the audience.

  47. capellan2000 says:

    Interesting enough, after this detailed and very smart review, I want to see this movie.
    But I will try to watch first the movies named in this review.

  48. Duke says:

    Thanks for giving away the entire plot. No need to see this film now.

    Seriously, what hack wrote this review?

    • Bradford says:

      It’s a story that happened over two hundred years ago. If it hasn’t been spoiled already, then there is a problem. Just like the Titanic. No one gripes and moans when someone spoils the fact that the Titanic sank because it is considered common knowledge. Same principle.

    • John Th says:

      The trailer gave away the entire plot…stop whining.

      Who wants to watch Leo get “raped” by a bear anyway??

  49. Carol says:

    Can’t wait to see this movie. Big fan of Leo. wish I was that bear,Damnn Leonardo is sexy.

  50. Clara L says:

    This film bears resemblance to the 1995 film Zero Kelvin(1001 films you must see before you die), with Stellan Skarsgaard. Terence Malik was inspired by that film, he said and so is this film. Trappers, chamberplay in ice and snow, male bonding and the lack of it. Grim and beautiful. Similar…

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