Film Reviews


By • Feb 3rd, 2016 •

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A masterpiece. Should take Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography this year, next year and the year after that.

THE REVENANT is based – “in part” says the film’s credits – on Michael Punke’s novel, The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. The screenplay is by the director of the film, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Mark L. Smith.

The film is based on the true life story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trapper and scout in the 1820s. Glass is hired by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, under the command of Capt. Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), to lead a group of men on an expedition on the upper Missouri River. After a near-massacre by Arikara Indians, Glass’s decision is to abandon their boat and with the remaining ten men walk overland to their Fort Kiowa headquarters. One of the men, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who has a signifying emblem of his own will to survive – he was scalped by Indians* – has lost his furs during the raid and does not want to follow Glass and leave the boat.

Glass has brought along his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), whose mother was his Pawnee wife (Grace Dove). She was murdered by white men and Hawk is divisively looked upon as a half-breed by the men but he is Glass’s sole reason to live.

While out hunting alone Glass is brutally mauled by a female Grizzly bear. Barely alive after the agonizing attack and unable to be carried through the mountains, Capt. Henry decides to leave Hawk, Fitzgerald and young trapper Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) behind with Glass assuming he will die in a matter of days. He wants Glass to have a Christian burial. Fitzgerald agrees to stay after being offered a great deal of money.

Left for dead by Fitzgerald’s machinations, Glass crawls out of the pit Fitzgerald dug for him; his journey to Fort Kiowa is an unimaginable journey of suffering. It would be deemed a fanciful exaggeration if it were not true that Glass was left 200 miles from the Fort.

What makes this so appealing a story is that it reminds us that the will to live surmounts any catastrophe. Never give up.

There is no modern story of survival that matches Glass’s ordeal.**

Glass’s ordeal is told in a visually astonishing way by Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, film editor Stephen Mirrione and production designer Jack Fisk.

Iñárritu chose to shoot the film in sequence using only natural light. This presented enormous problems in addition to the unforgiving environment. Members of the crew revolted and many quit. The Hollywood Reporter titled its July 2015 story, “’The Revenant’ Shoot Became “A Living Hell” with crew members calling it “…the worst experience of their careers — “a living hell.”

DiCaprio recently got bad tabloid press (The Daily Beast’s “You Must be this Old to Ride the DiCaprio”) for being a model-loving diva who dumps girlfriends once they hit 25), but I did not hear of a 5-star hotel anywhere around for DiCaprio to stay and it sure looked like that was him in the freezing cold dragging his body through waist-high snow. I know Hollywood is clever, but that sure looked like real waist-high snow.

DiCaprio invests completely in this role. It’s his Citizen Kane, his Jake LaMotta. DiCaprio should have won the Academy Award for THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. DiCaprio does not need the Academy Award for Best Actor for this performance. Audiences know it is a great performance.


Tom Hardy is fascinating as Glass’s nemesis and, true to human nature, he understands that Fitzgerald felt justified in everything he did. Hardy, with the exception of THIS MEANS WAR (I tell myself he needed the money), worked with DiCaprio as a colleague in INCEPTION. Like DiCaprio, Hardy knows that acting involves the entire body and it is less words and more facial muscles that deliver a realistic performance. Body language can express far more than words. And to get those facial muscles to come to the fore, one must believe in what you are essentially pretending is real life.

Even though I received a DVD for THE REVENANT as a member of the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, I paid to see it again on a theater screen. This is really the only way to see this gorgeous film.

Is it a spoiler to mention there is a horrifying bear attack in this film? No matter how this scene was filmed or created by a special effects team, it is riveting. And, Iñárritu does not let you off the hook by cutting away or implying the horrific attack. It goes on for a very long time. And even if the bear was a man in a suit, that certainly was DiCaprio’s face in the mud getting “bear saliva” dripping on his face.

There was absolutely no necessity for dialog in the film. You can see the suffering of DiCaprio’s performance.

There is no footage of a bear killing a human, supposedly.

In October 2003, bear enthusiastic and environmentalist Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were killed by a brown bear. The official version was that the video machine that was found – Treadwell always filmed his interaction with bears – malfunctioned in some way and only had recorded the sound of the attack. Werner Herzog, who made the documentary Grizzly Man, claims otherwise.***

The audio of this horrific attack is all over the Internet.

Alejandro González Iñárritu was interviewed by Darren Aronsky for the New York Director’s Guild and said he talked to Herzog about what he heard on the audio.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at


*During the French and Indian War, a French writer, known only by his initials of J.C.B., described the act. “The savage quickly seizes his knife, and makes an incision around the hair from the upper part of the forehead to the back of the neck. Then he puts his foot on the shoulder of the victim, whom he has turned over face down, and pulls the hair off with both hands, from back to front… When a savage has taken a scalp, and is not afraid he is being pursued, he stops and scrapes the skin to remove the blood and fibres on it. He makes a hoop of green wood, stretches the skin over it like a tambourine, and puts it in the sun to dry a little. The skin is painted red, and the hair on the outside combed. When prepared, the scalp is fastened to the end of a long stick, and carried on his shoulder in triumph to the village or place where he wants to put it. But as he nears each place on his way, he gives as many cries as he has scalps to announce his arrival and show his bravery. Sometimes as many as 15 scalps are fastened on the same stick. When there are too many for one stick, they decorate several sticks with the scalps.” From a Muzzleloader Magazine article written by George A. Bray III

**There is only one story of survival – outside of Mount Everest survival stories – that comes to mind, although there is no comparing a journey of 200 miles in freezing snow and seriously wounded to a five mile crawl. This story presents a decision that is still debated today. Would you cut the rope? In 1985, Joe Simpson and climbing mate Simon Yates successfully scaled the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Simpson broke his leg during the descent and while Yates was lowering Simpson down the mountain the knot connecting the two men snagged and Yates made the decision to cut the rope, to save himself. This sent Simpson falling 150 feet into a crevasse. Somehow, Simpson survived and, because of his will to live, for the next three and a half days, he crawled the agonizing five miles to base camp.

treadwell***From Wikipedia. In October 2003, Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, visited Katmai National Park. In Grizzly Man, filmmaker Werner Herzog states that according to Treadwell and Huguenard’s diaries, Huguenard feared bears and felt deeply uncomfortable in their presence. Her final journal entries indicated that she wanted to be away from Katmai. Treadwell chose to set his campsite near a salmon stream where grizzlies commonly feed in autumn. Treadwell was in the park later in the year than usual, knowing full well that it was a time when bears struggle to gain as much fat as possible before winter.

A video camera was recovered at the site which proved to have been operating during the attack, but police said that the six-minute tape was blank; only the sound of their agonized cries as a brown bear mauled the couple to death was recorded. In Grizzly Man, Herzog claims that the lens cap of the camera was left on, suggesting that Treadwell and Huguenard were in the process of setting up for another video sequence when the attack happened.

The camera had been turned on just before the attack, presumably by Huguenard, but the camera recorded only six minutes of audio before running out of tape. This, however, was enough time to record the bear’s initial attack on Treadwell and his agonized screams, its retreat when Huguenard attacked it, its return to carry Treadwell off into the forest, and Huguenard’s screams of horror as she is left alone.

In Grizzly Man, Herzog listens to the recording on headphones (leaving it unheard on the film’s soundtrack) and then urges Treadwell’s ex-girlfriend, who has possession of the tape, to destroy it. Audio of this attack is all over the Internet and can be easily found on YouTude.


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