This is my review of The Revenant [DVD] .
Based on a true story, this is an epic tale of survival in the bleakly beautiful lawless wilderness of 1820s America’s western frontier. When a hunting expedition is brutally torn apart by marauding Indians bent on stealing the valuable “pelts” to sell to the French settlers, the Americans rely on Glass to use his skills as a guide to get them back to the fort before the snows set in, but after he is horrifically wounded in what will no doubt become a famous “bear scene”, they have to decide whether to put him out of his misery, or leave him in the care of two group members.
The unrelenting pain and misfortune suffered by Glass, in an Oscar-deserving performance from Leonardo di Caprio, would be intolerable to watch but for the skill of the photography and direction – how on earth were some of the scenes produced? – and the stunning scenery, in particular the mountainous panoramas on a vast scale. Although, as is often the case, Glass is made both to suffer too much and yet to keep overcoming each setback against the most overwhelming odds, there is a fascination in seeing how he uses a mixture of ingenuity and what he has learned from the underestimated Indians in order to survive. Despite his toughness, he has a rapport with the Indians amongst whom he has lived, even fathering a half-Indian son by a woman he clearly loved. He seems genuinely to appreciate nature: at one point when he may be on the point of being murdered he appears to stop in his tracks to observe a dramatic avalanche in the distance. We gain an insight into the fragility of frontier life, where men are forced to compete for scarce resources and some like Fitzgerald are driven half-mad by past traumas.
The Director ends the drama in perhaps the only way possible to avoid corny sentimentality. My sole reservation is that it was not only the Indians and the French who needed subtitles. It was impossible at times to grasp what most of the Americans were drawling, in particular the villainous Fitzgerald. Although I could usually work out what had happened, it was frustrating to be unable to grasp it straight away.