Suffering has never looked as good as it does in this movie from Alejandro G. Inarritu. It’s a tale of survival and revenge in the frozen American wilderness of the early nineteenth century, and the locations in Canada are starkly beautiful.
A party of fur trappers are attacked by Native Americans from the Akikara tribe, with many killed and the survivors fleeing down river. Their guide Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) advises that they stash their pelts, ditch the boat and evade them on land. This does not go down well with Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) one of the trappers who given past dealings with Native Americans distrusts Glass and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), as Glass’ wife was a native.
They follow Glass’ plan but he is attacked and mauled by a bear. They carry him onwards but he slows them down. Expedition leader Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) can’t bring himself to kill Glass as Fitzgerald urges and so offers a bonus to three men who will stay behind and wait until Glass dies and ensure he is “buried properly”. Hawk is first to volunteer along with youngster Bridger (Will Poulter), and Fitzgerald, with an eye on the cash, agrees as well.
Fitzgerald attempts to kill Glass but is caught by Hawk and stabs him, hiding the body. The severely injured Glass witnesses this but is unable to stop it or tell Bridger later. Fitzgerald tricks Bridger into thinking the Akikara are near, and after Bridger’s objections tosses Glass into a shallow grave and the pair flee.
Glass crawls from the grave and begins to crawl and stumble for home, intent on avenging his son. Can he survive the wilderness? Will he get his revenge or be denied?
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, which is a tense, gripping affair with gorgeous visuals and strong performances. The plot, based (very) loosely on true events, is simple enough but the kind of story which is engaging and involving, an old fashioned story of revenge.
In the lead DiCaprio gives a performance which is both intense and minimalistic. Alone for much of the running time, he endures the harsh surroundings surviving as best he can. His past is revealed through disjointed dream sequences as he dips in and out of consciousness, piecing together what happened to his wife.
DiCaprio looks like he’s suffering throughout and later on adopts a raspy, quiet voice caused by his injuries. It’s a strong performance in many ways as you buy into it totally, and I rooted for him throughout. It’s an intimate performance, and with nobody to spark off it’s to his credit that he holds the attention.
The suffering is intense and wince inducingly real, but Inarritu avoids glamourising or overplaying it, it’s a low level, gritty portrayal which makes it all the more involving. At times it made me and MWF flinch, but it’s not lingered on and we kept watching raptly.
Inarritu’s direction is pretty flawless, with his framing wonderful and sense of pacing on point, the film moves along well enough, neither dawdling or rushing to the finale. The only misstep for me were some of the dream sequences, especially a moment where Glass’ dead wife hovers above him, which I found almost laughable. But this is one of very few mistakes during the film.
What works best is the brutal, harsh tone which highlights the fragility of life and the façade of civilisation on the edge if the world. The opening attack on the trappers is fast paced and savage, an oddity in the post- Dances With Wolves world, with the Native Americans shown as violent. Yet it avoids simple “savage” cliché as the white man is just as violent and ruthless, and the chief’s (Duane Howard) obsessive pursuit mirrors Glass’.
Hardy’s Fitzgerald is the best illustration of this, with a “what needs to be done” attitude that places survival above all else. While clearly the villain of the piece the film avoids utterly condemning the man and Hardy plays him with his normal strength.
Hardy does good work making the man distasteful and his actions vile while still making him human and at times sympathetic. This is a man who struggles to get by, who fears and carries the scars, physical and emotional, of his past. Out on the edge of the wild, he has begun to shed his humanity and become more beastlike in his single mindedness to survive.
The other performances are just as solid, if less showy than the leads, and this is DiCaprio’s movie. Oscar worthy? Well, it would take a lot to beat him.
Inarritu should also get a little gold fella as his direction is sublime and he makes a film which easily moves from the brutal to the beautiful, and shows an ease and confidence which allows him to let the film unfold at it’s own pace. In the vast landscapes he still manages to find small, delicate human moments and he keeps the audience glued.
Verdict: A strong, involving movie about survival, rage and men at the fringes of civilisation. DiCaprio gives a solid, mesmerising performance and carries the film single handedly for much of the run time. Inarritu directs superbly and the film is great to look at, even while some of the violence is hard to watch. Thoroughly captivating. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.