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The Revenant: An Unaccomplished Movie Review

leonardo-dicaprio-dan-tom-hardy-tampil-garang-di-poster-film-the-revenant1

Quién es mas macho?

This is my first movie review. It may well be my last.

I’m not a huge movie buff. At most I see maybe a half dozen movies per year in the theater because I’m too cheap to pay the $11+ for a box office ticket. I’m content to wait until films are released to the ‘after market’ when I can watch them on DirecTV for half the price and eat popcorn that costs a fraction of what the theater concessions demand. That said, occasionally a movie beckons me to crawl out of my hole and watch it on the big screen.

The Revenant was one such movie.

When I first learned of the movie’s forthcoming release it was recommended that I first read the book (The Revenant, by Michael Punke), which I did. That was my first mistake because the book was excellent, and it set a very high bar for my movie expectations. My second mistake was in thinking (hoping) the film would be much more like the book than it was. Like nearly all films based on books, The Revenant took liberties and strayed considerably from the author’s storyline.

I wished it hadn’t.

When The Revenant hit local theaters on January 9th I was there for it, with two amigos who, like me, rather enjoy this period in American history. The first half of the 19th century was a time of great exploration and adventure (much to the dismay of the native Americans), when men were men and not only did they hold fish out of the water, they ate them raw (at least that happens inThe Revenant). It was a raw time during which men who ventured into the wilderness, if they survived, did so only while suffering great hardships—and they did it by choice. At one point early in the movie I leaned toward one of my buddies and whispered, “Man, we’re pussies.” By comparison to the mountain men, and frankly anyone living outside of the established East coast cities during the 1800’s, we modern day Americans are soft and weak. Neither thick beard nor all the Filson plaid in Seattle will make you into a fraction of the man that was a fur trapper circa 1823.

hipster lumbersexual

Yeah, um…no.

The director did a fine job of visually portraying the reality that must have been the life in the Rocky Mountains during that era. As I’ve driven through the Rockies, en route to and from fishing trips to Montana during the summer months, I’ve often paused to consider the immense ruggedness from the comfort of my vehicle and wondered what life was like for the early explorers though that country. Turn back the hands of time nearly 200 years. Strip yourself of everything you need to survive save for a set of animal hide clothes, a knife and a temperamental, inefficient flintlock rifle. Change the season so that it’s the middle of winter. Your buckskin leggings and moccasins are drenched from setting beaver traps in an ice-cold river. You’re probably half-starved and living in fear for your life during every waking moment (and also while you sleep). The brutality of the weather and harsh conditions shone through bright and clear in the film. The good old days? While it may be romantic to think so, I dunno about that.

 

revenantOpening Scene

All hell’s breaking loose.

Despite an opening scene as intense as that in Saving Private Ryan, the bulk of The Revenant was very slow. Certainly there were moments of excitement (like when the grizzly bear tears Hugh Glass to shreds), but mostly the film crawled along at a snail’s pace, not unlike Leonardo Dicaprio’s character did as he dragged his tattered and broken body across the frozen land. Fortunately the film ended with a flurry of action in which Glass is engaged in a hand-to-hand battle with the man he’d been pursuing for the majority of the film, John Fitzgerald (played brilliantly by Tom Hardy). In the final skirmish Glass wields a hatchet against his adversary’s Bowie knife. There’s plenty of blood spilled on the snow in the end to leave you exhilarated, if you like that sort of thing (which I do as long as it doesn’t involve me).

RevenantReview

The story crawled along at a painfully slow pace.

Sandwiched between the nail-biting opening scene and the dramatic final battle was too much time during which to wonder why the film didn’t follow the book more closely. While the cinematography was excellent, there were strange scenes that added no value to the film and left me scratching my head. Hugh Glass has a few spirit visions of his deceased Pawnee wife that seemed out of place and, quite frankly, a bit strange. Another scene that caused my eyes to roll was when Glass and a lone Pawnee man where sharing a camp. Light snow begins to fall and the Pawnee sticks out his tongue to catch flakes. He looks toward Glass, who looks awkwardly back. Then Dicaprio’s character sticks his tongue out to catch a few flakes. What was the point of this random, light-hearted scene? It was a deathly cold night in the middle of winter. Glass was still suffering horribly from his wounds and there was a reason the lone Pawnee man was alone (he had clearly suffered great losses of his own). Neither of them would have been in any mood for such silliness. Wasn’t it just enough that they shared a campfire? It was weird.

WillGlass

Will the real HughGlass please stand up?

The film, and Dicaprio, won Golden Globe Awards. There’s been talk that this is Dicaprio’s shot at an Oscar. I don’t quite agree. The character of Hugh Glass speaks relatively few lines throughout the entirety of the film, and a considerable portion of that comes by way of muffled grunts through a throat torn open by the bear. I don’t see that it was a particularly difficult role to play, and quite frankly I felt Leonardo was the wrong actor for the part.

Revenant_casting

Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald (left); Leo as Hugh Glass (right…or, wrong)

Remember, the real mountain men of the 1800’s were rough-cut badasses. Even with a scraggly beard and a buffalo robe I don’t think of Leonardo Dicaprio as being particularly rugged, and certainly not badass. Tom Hardy (who played John Fitzgerald) was rugged and badass—I’d rather have seen him in the lead role. Hardy’s character was also missing most of his scalp from an run-in with a hostile native earlier in his life. In the book, Glass lost most of his scalp to the griz attack. Leo’s character kept his hair in the film. The loss of his scalp would have added considerable (and much needed) grit to his role.

The book is clearly about one man’s desperate struggle to survive as he crawls some 200 miles to a fur trading post where he regains his strength, and some much-needed supplies, before turning around and resuming his quest for revenge upon the men to left him for dead. In the film, Glass’s struggle is nowhere near as evident. For starters, he seems to recover from his grave wounds too quickly and I get the sense that he suffered neither as much nor ventured as far as the book indicated. Nearly the entire film takes place while there’s snow on the ground. It’s my expert opinion that had the movie begun during the warm, golden days of Fall, and moved toward winter, the passage of time would have been more evident and dramatic. Glass’s journey (and suffering), could have been made out to be much greater without adding length to the movie (because the weird spiritual stuff could have been omitted). Again, maybe I’m being a bit hard on the film for wishing it would have been more like the book.

So be it.

Was it a good film?  Yes. Was it a great film? No, but it could have been. My advice to you is read the book AFTER you’ve seen the movie, otherwise you’re likely to be disappointed, like me.

Or maybe not. This is just my opinion. The film, and Dicaprio, will probably earn Oscars. I hope, at least, Tom Hardy also wins for Supporting Actor.

What are your thoughts?

Revenant book

Definitely read the book

21 thoughts on “The Revenant: An Unaccomplished Movie Review”

  1. TroutDetective says:

    I haven’t read the book, but agree 100% with your assessment of the movie. I struggled to watch the whole thing, just *knowing* it had to get better – but it didn’t. Total letdown, and at times, downright stupid.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      I strongly urge you to read the book. That way, when people ask what you thought of The Revenant, you can say, “The book? It was excellent.”

      1. Carol says:

        My thoughts too. I’ll get the book at the library, save $12 and have more than 2 hours of engagement.

  2. Fred Telleen says:

    My wife wants to go see it. I don’t. I’m going to suggest she read your blog. She probably won’t. I always root for the bear. I’m staying in my hole.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      I wouldn’t expect your wife to read the blog, nor do I want to discourage you from crawling out of your hole. I think the movie is definitely worth seeing. It just disappointed me, personally, because my expectations were, perhaps, unrealistic. I will watch it again with interest, after it’s done with the theatrical run.

  3. Chris says:

    *Hugh Glass*
    I have not seen the picture, but isn’t it based on Hugh Glass?

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Crap. Damn me for the mind fart. I blame it on an old head injury caused by a bear attack. Thank you for pointing out the error of my ways.

  4. JB says:

    I’ll offer a counterpoint – I really liked it. An intense, brutal story told over a spectacular western setting with fantastic acting. Leo was great, and Tom Hardy might’ve been better. I don’t believe an actor needs words to be good – the opposite, in fact (like Tom Hanks in Cast Away). I’ll concede some slow parts, but even they were good enough. I did not read the book and very likely won’t, for what that’s worth. But all four of us agreed that it was very good to excellent.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      I’m glad you liked the film—it just means that we have differing opinions, and yours is wrong 😉 I didn’t dislike it, but I was disappointed. You should read the book.

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  6. Doug Riddle says:

    Great movie visually. The night before seeing the movie I watched a half hour special on the making of the movie, which was both a good and bad thing. I had read the book and other material about Glass, so I knew his story well. The director said in the special that he did not feel that Glass’ desire/need for revenge and to get his rife back had enough emotional impact to hang the movie on, so he invented the dead wife and son. And he wanted to show the impact of trapping beaver had on Native Americans, which is why he had the NA man help Glass. Now I understand that a book and a movie made from it are two different animals…but, we are talking about an actual person. You can’t just make up things out of whole cloth about there lives and motives for their actions because you don’t think their story has enough emotinal impact…..if you feel that way, why make this movie? Also Fitzgerald’s character would have never spoken to Glass as he did in the movie.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      I agree that it was a beautiful, awe-inspiring film visually. I think the director cold have pulled off the necessary emotional impact of Glass’ suffering and desire for revenge in less time, without the need for the made-up deceased wife and son. Artists can embellish or change a story in whatever means they wish—even the book was based on partial truths, because not all that much is know of Hugh Glass’ real life story (the author admitted that). But I feel the same way you do. The film crew should have consulted us first.

  7. Doug Riddle says:

    Sorry for the typos and grammer gafts, still working the first cup of coffee.

  8. Bob Blevins says:

    Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the book, I too was excited about seeing the movie, especially with all the buzz and Golden Globe success earlier this month. Having read Kirk’s review prior to going, I lowered my Hollywood expectation and also did some digging/research on the Theatrical version and found quickly the core factor for his revenge was embellished by adding a wife and son.

    Overall I still enjoyed the movie, but it did drag at times and the Director did add some scenes that really seemed like unnecessary filler and he clearly like scene shots looking up at the sky through the trees. Yes, it could have been better, but since most of the audience won’t have read and enjoyed the book, it will get “two thumbs up” and be a commercial success for the Director, Dicaprio and Hardy. An incredible story and journey of survival and perseverance……I gave it a 3.5 out of 5…..go see it.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Well said, Mr. Blevins. Spoken as if you had owned a video store in a previous life, or something like that 😉

  9. Ben says:

    This is one of those movies that I sooo wanted to be good, but I agree with your assessment that Leonardo was not the right actor for the job… Film had so much potential.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Oh, well. Chances are the voting Academy will disagree with you and me, Ben. Just a hunch.

  10. Mark says:

    Sir,
    In those days, there were neider Pawnee Indians nor hog breeding tribes in the Rocky Mountains . The blizzard was shown nicely and the mother teddy bear too.
    Once again thank you for your recommendation.
    bst, rgts.
    mark

  11. Mark says:

    Dear Kirk,
    My wife is of your opinion that mr. Leonardo is not suitable for the role of Glass in the movie.
    (neider=neither, sorry for misspeling)
    Best regards
    Mark

  12. Concepción Aguilera says:

    Hello, there!

    The Revenant is one the greatest movies I’ve ever seen, and I am really sorry you feel likes this! Especially when you talk about the scene when they catch snowflakes with their tongues. It’s so silly that it’s beautiful; it’s the only moment during the entire movie (if I remember correctly) you see Glass smile. How can two men who are going through such terrible times stop for a moment to enjoy the beauty of nature, and forget for one second that snow is, and has been, the most terrible thing for them? That’s why it is such a wonderful scene filled with human emotions, even if it is, indeed, silly.

    Di Caprio… Yes, he doesn’t talk much. But his gestures, his facial expressions and movements, such as the pain, the misery he’s going through, the dispair he shows is amazing. Without saying many words, for example, you can see he would like to die right there when he finds his dead son, and sleeps on his chest. That, my friend, is called good acting, one worth watching, even though personally I think he deserved the Oscar more for “The Great Gatsby”.

    Oh, one last thing: there’s an expression that goes “never judge a book by its cover”. Well, if you like to read, but you’re not really into movies, “never, ever, ever judge a movie by the book it comes from”. It’s absolutely nonsense and unfair; two very different forms of art deserve different approaches. Maybe you’ll enjoy movies more if you stop trying to compare them with the books that inspired them, and you’ ll keep a nicer memory from whatever book you read if you stop going to the movies just to check if the movie is like the book.

    Regards!

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks for your thoughts and opinion, which is exactly what I posted: my opinion. When a movie is based on a book, as is the case very often, there is no way NOT to compare the two. Books obviously have the advantage of going into greater detail, which can enhance the experience, but (in my opinion) not all book-based movies fall short of the books from which they are derived. And I do enjoy most movies, most more than the Revenant, which could have been so much better (in my opinion) had it stayed even somewhat closer to the original storyline in the book. Cheers!

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