Revenant: Definition one, a person who returns. Definition two, a person who returns as a spirit or ghost. The film works on both those levels. Going in, based on early word and promotions, this may have struck you as a revenge movie with Leonardo DiCaprio fighting a bear.
And those things are there. The bear attack is intense and brutal. It also leads to DiCaprio’s High Glass’ quest for revenge on Tom Hardy’s John Fitzgerald. After their fur trapping group is attacked by a group of Native Americans. They are seeking the Chief’s kidnapped daughter and believe Glass’s crew has her. The survivors escape due to Glass’s knowledge of the wilderness. His main goal is protecting his son.
While scouting ahead, Glass is attacked and has a fight with a large mother bear. His group tries to patch him up, but ultimately, they agree to go ahead while Fitzgerald, Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) stay with the incapacitated Glass.
Things go south as Fitzgerald becomes impatient, wishing Glass would just die. As I said, the film is a revenge film. But it is not a revenge film like we might get starring Liam Neeson or Mel Gibson. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2014’s Birdman) takes his time. Much of the film simply follows Glass struggling to survive a harsh winter, mostly alone, when he can barely walk. The actual seeking of revenge does not occur until near the end of the movie.
It is beautifully shot, capturing much of the beauty that can be found even in harsh winters. Iñárritu skillfully will focus on a sunrise as seen through frozen bare tree branches. And the performances are what one would expect from talent like DiCaprio and Hardy. There are long quiet stretches, that get broken up by harsh and brutal violence.
I don’t know that the Revenant is truly a film that invites repeat watches, it is not a film where you need to mine it for themes buried deep. Instead, it is laid bare on the table. It is a film that sticks with you well after leaving the theater.