Man versus nature is one of the great enduring themes in filmmaking. From “The African Queen” to “127 Hours” to “Everest,” movie lovers have been treated to many a splendid battle where human survival is at the mercy of a merciless Mother Nature.
The latest cinematic offering with the man v. nature theme is “The Revenant,” the tale of scout Hugh Glass who is left for dead by his trapping party after he is attacked by a grizzly bear.
The year is 1823. In the corner opposite Glass is the tag team of the Rocky Mountains and Old Man Winter.
Directed by Alejandro Inarritu (“Birdman,” “Babel”), “The Revenant” stars Leonardo DiCaprio (“Inception,” “The Departed”) as Glass and Tom Hardy (“The Drop,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”) as John Fitzgerald, a fur trapper who sees Glass’ half Native American son Hawk (actor Forrest Goodluck) as one of the reasons the trapping party is raided at the beginning of the film.
After Glass is attacked by the Grizzly bear, he is betrayed by Fitzgerald and left for dead.
The majority of “The Revenant” concerns Glass’ struggle for survival and need for revenge. Based on a true story, “The Revenant” is brutal, bloody and heroic. With little dialogue to propel the story, screenwriters Inarritu and Watauga County native Mark L. Smith do a remarkable job using Glass’ every encounter with man, beast or environment to move the plot forward.
Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubzeki brings much of the story to life, alternating distant shots that allow the audience to see how alone Glass is, and close-ups that convey his emotional and physical pain. The images of fire, water and sky give the film a timeless realism and you can almost feel the cold that Glass endures as he first crawls and then limps his way back to civilization.
“The Revenant” reminded me of the unfairly dismissed 2006 thriller “Apocalypto.” Both films deal with the clash of cultures, a long journey where danger wears both a human and non-human face, and the driving force of family ties. And the natural environment in both films is as alive as any of the cast members. The main difference in the films is that one man is running for his life and the other man is moving steadily toward his prey.
Although it has become a cliché to say that a movie is one that needs to be seen on the big screen, that is completely true with “The Revenant.” Although somewhat disturbing in its portrayal of hand-to-hand combat, it is a thrilling adventure yarn without equal in recent years. Highly recommended.
“The Revenant is rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity. It is currently playing at Regal Cinema in Boone.