Leo DiCaprio Roughs It in “The Revenant”
By Skip Sheffield
One-time pretty boy Leonardo DiCaprio is all grown up and all manned up for his role as rugged frontiersman, Hugh Glass, in “The Revenant.”
There is little doubt DiCaprio will be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his punishing performance as Hugh Glass.
There really was a Hugh Glass, born in 1790 and killed by hostile Arikara Indians in 1833. “The Revenant” (it means "thing reborn" in French) covers the most incredible chapter in Glass’ tumultuous life. It occurred in 1823 in the area of present-day Montana and South Dakota. Glass was the experienced scout in a fur hunting party led by Capt. Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson).
Mexican-born director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman,” “Biutiful”) begins the story with a prophetic prologue uttered by Glass: “As long as you can grab a breath, you fight,” followed by a brutal attack by savage Arikara Indians. Half of the company is killed and the other half flees on a raft and thence into the wilderness with Glass leading the way.
Glass knows that wilderness like the back of his hand and he understands Native American well enough he speaks the language and married an Indian woman who bore him a son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), who is part of the party. Second in command is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who is clearly envious of Hugh Glass and untrustworthy.
When Glass encounters two grizzly bear cubs, he is savagely attacked by the mama bear. Using CG effects, it is one of the most convincing animal attacks you will see. Glass survives the attack and is forced to kill the bear, but he is sorely wounded. The men fashion a sled so Glass can be dragged along. The opportunist Fitzgerald suggests they just put Glass out of his misery so they can move faster, but the highly principled Capt. Henry pledges to protect him and even offers a reward for his safe return.
The arc of the story hinges on a betrayal. Hawk and young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) stay behind to protect Glass. When their backs are turned, Fitzgerald tries to smother the helpless Glass. Hawk intervenes and is killed by Fitzgerald. This is the second major loss for Glass, whose Indian wife (Grace Dove) was killed earlier. Glass makes it a personal crusade to free Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o), daughter of the local Chief.
Left for dead and robbed of his possessions including his guns, Glass miraculously survives and begins a literal 200-mile crawl back to Fort Kiowa, South Dakota.
While “The Revenant” is as violent as “The Hateful Eight” it differs in the fact it has a moral compass. Hugh Glass is a good and honorable man who loves his family and endures unbearable loss. Fitzgerald is a devious coward who deserves whatever comes his way.
“Only God can claim revenge,” Glass concludes as he faces his nemesis in a final showdown.
“The Revenant” boasts spectacular cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and a moody, spooky musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto. It is a frontier action-adventure, but it is also a work of art.