I have always been a sucker for movies based on true stories. I'm not completely sure why I'm drawn to these adaptations, even though they're often more fictional than fact-based. There are some, though, that are so incredible it's almost incomprehensible these events actually happened, and Alejandro González Iñárritu's The Revenant is one of them. This adaptation is based on the revenge novel by Michael Punke, which itself is based on the true story of Hugh Glass, who remarkably survived a bear mauling and being left for dead by his expedition before making the 200-mile trek to the nearest American settlement in 1823. Unfortunately, this brilliant adaptation is already starting to make headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
Naturally, the bear attack is a prominent part of the film, and even the most detailed description of this scene can hardly do it justice, since it is truly remarkable and harrowing. Earlier this week, after The Revenant's first press screenings, some viewers thought that this attack was actually a bear raping Leonardo DiCaprio's Hugh Glass, despite the obvious fact that the bear in question is a female trying to protect her cubs. It got to the point where 20th Century Fox actually had to release a statement, squashing this speculation that a massive grizzly bear rapes Leonardo DiCaprio. The only good that can possibly come out of this "controversy" is that it makes people more curious about the film and more inclined to see it. The bear mauling scene is just phenomenal, but it's not rape.
While the bear attack may get all the headlines, the film's outstanding opening sequence is truly a sight to behold, which can most easily be compared to the Omaha Beach battle in Saving Private Ryan. Leonardo DiCaprio's Hugh Glass is part of a fur-trapping expedition lead by Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), which comes under attack by savage Native Americans in an intense battle scene that thins out this expedition's numbers drastically. Hugh Glass essentially serves as the company's navigator, since he knows this terrain better than any of the other men. While Henry sees Glass as a valuable asset to this group, the opinionated Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) isn't exactly a fan of Glass, partially because he is raising a Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck).
After the bear attack, while Henry valiantly tries to bring Glass to safety, he realizes that they can't keep carrying him through this rugged terrain, and enlist Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and Fitzgerald to stay behind and look after him, but that doesn't last too long, thanks to the deceiving ways of Fitzgerald, and before long, Hugh Glass is on his own, unarmed, horrifically wounded and unable to walk thanks to a broken ankle. It's hard to imagine how anyone can survive under these conditions, but that's what makes Glass' story so incredibly compelling.
After teaming up on last year's Best Picture winner Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu brought back cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who will surely be nominated for another Oscar for his work here. While the entire movie isn't crafted as "one shot" like Birdman was, there are certainly a number of grand, sweeping scenes that were gorgeously captured in one extended shot, such as the opening battle sequence. While it's not nearly as kinetic as Birdman, The Revenant is just a gorgeous sight to behold, which could finally bring Oscar gold to Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Best Actor race at the Oscars is always a tough race to call, but Leonardo DiCaprio is more than past due, after four nominations and zero wins. Much like Robert Redford's nearly-silent performance in All Is Lost, Leonardo DiCaprio was not only subjected to harsh filming conditions (Leonardo DiCaprio slept inside an actual dead animal carcass in one epic scene), but had very little dialogue throughout the 150-minute film, creating an utterly compelling character by showing his undying will to survive, and get his revenge against Fitzgerald.
The Revenant hits theaters in limited release on December 25, before a national expansion in January. It will be interesting to see how this harrowing drama fares at the box office, after the supposed "controversy" over the non-existent "bear rape" scene, but trust me, The Revenant is easily one of this year's best, that demands to be seen on a big screen. Do you agree or disagree with my review? Chime in with your thoughts below, or on Twitter @GallagherMW.