This is a movie that was running for its second or third week in India. This is typically the time by which most Hollywood movies (especially the non-Superhero ones) have petered out, reduced to at best a show or a couple of shows at some of the more expensive, niche, expat-focused theaters in town.
The Revenant, boosted by its Oscar for sudden-crowd-favorite-across-the-developed-word Leonardo DiCaprio was different, still running a few shows in cinema halls in the relative urban boondocks, which to my initial surprise – which I later realized should not have been surprising – were running to full houses. So from third row seats, here are my two paisa.
To summarize The Revenant, it’s essentially as a colleague told me – a two and a half hour long episode of Man versus Wild, with reference to the eponymous show by the British Army Sergeant Bear Grylls.
Things move at a fast clip and there is no time lost in setting the context. What this context is, I doubt most people in the cinema hall understood – it would take a good deal of Googling to do so. Long story short, this is 19th century America, the wild west has not yet been conquered. There’re a bunch of men who work as fur collectors (or pelt-ers I believe the correct word is) for a company. They’re attacked by the indigenous Red Indians, the original inhabitants of this land the white man is trying to take over. One of the Indian chiefs has a missing daughter he’s looking for. The French, also on the continent at that point of time – are involved in this tale somehow because they’re the ones who abducted the Indian girl.
As the band of white men beat a hasty retreat, our hero is one of the survivors from this attack and is very important because he is the only one who knows the area around and…because he is apparently very respected. There’re some unpopular decisions he takes which leads to one guy slagging him off. He also has a mixed breed son which leads to question marks from said-guy over his allegiance. Haters gonna hate right? Hero then attacked, mauled by a bear. Not a big fan of gore, but this scene was wow – really made everyone in the hall cower back! Hero unwell, rest of the crew try to carry him but realize he was slowing them down. Two men + son, including previously established villain stay back with him at extra price. Villain kills the son, convinces the other good man to run scaring him and convincing him it is a lost cause.
All this happens in around 40 minutes or so. The rest of the movie is then Man versus Wild. Hero, who can barely crawl – gradually starts to walk, forages for food, escapes from native Indians, swims down an icy cold river, walks some more, makes an native friend, rides on horseback, has his wounds tended to, survives a storm, sees his friend killed, saves a daughter of chief (I think?) from being raped, escapes from French with their horses, gets chased down a ravine, somehow still survives and staggers further and further until he’s found. And then there’s a long track about how he gets his vengeance on the man who deserted him and killed his son.
The cinematography is fantastic, the vistas are amazing and the movie looks really beautiful – like one of those Discovery videos. The basic premise of the revenge drama is engaging enough. The pain feels real, it genuinely does seem to put you there and make you feel how difficult it is to survive against the elements. However, it’s difficult to really believe what’s happening is true or unexaggerated – even though this is based on a semi-true story. For one, the transformation is quite extreme and quick. The good guys are really, completely good – the bad guys are completely, un-redeemably bad. A lot of the dialogue is lost because of guys mumbling in the cold, in unintelligible 19th century English so character motivations are difficult to completely explore. I did not understand most of the metaphors that keep appearing in the dream sequences – what was that mountain of bones or skulls for example? And the final act, went on too long and was just about to border on ironically farcical for a movie which takes itself so seriously.
This is one of those cool art movies which is still watchable because it has enough masala in it. 3 stars for Revenant, glad I watched it once in a cinema hall because this would have been tough to watch at home.
Ohh, and Leonardo DiCaprio absolutely killed it in Wolf of Wall Street. This may have been a tougher role to prepare for, but that was definitely the awesome-er bit of acting. The real star here is the cinematographers and the whole crew for those wonderful continuous shots and some amazing nature close ups.