Combustible Celluloid
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With: 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
Written by: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu, based on a novel by Michael Punke
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
MPAA Rating: R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 156
Date: 12/25/2015

The Revenant (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Heady Bear

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Thanks to a committed performance by Leonardo DiCaprio and extraordinary cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, this isn't terrible, but its grandiose treatment belies a rather dull, flat revenge story. Lubezki — who also shot The Tree of Life, Gravity, and Birdman — gives The Revenant a fully immersive, dimensional look, with jaw-dropping long takes and strikingly physical realism. For his part, DiCaprio does punishing work, putting himself truly through the ringer for his art.

In the mid-1800s, a fur-trapping expedition is brutally attacked by American Indians, and captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) decides to ditch their haul and return home. Their survival depends heavily upon Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), an experienced explorer who was once married to a Pawnee woman and now has a mixed-breed son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck).

When Glass is brutally mauled by a bear, the greedy, cowardly John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) are left behind with Hawk to look after Glass, and, if he dies, give him a decent burial. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald kills Hawk and hits the road with Bridger. Against all odds, Glass fights for life until he is able to travel, find Fitzgerald, and exact his revenge.

For a while, it's easy to be carried away, until we realize that Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu doesn't really have much to say here, and that the movie, at 2 hours and 36 minutes, is really just a long attempt to add weight and profundity to an ordinary pulp Western. Some of the story turns are painfully familiar, and the supporting characters are thin, almost stereotypes. Add to that a high level of serious brutality, and The Revenant leaves a somewhat unpleasant aftertaste.

It's interesting to note that to Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight -- with its somewhat similar winter/wild west setting -- opened the same day; whereas The Revenant firmly states "I am important," The Hateful Eight playfully asks, "isn't this cool?" I know which one I prefer.

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