Planning to see “The Revenant?” Wear mittens.
Wear also a big, thick coat. Preferably, one made of bearskin. Ideally, one made from the skin of a grizzly like the one that shreds Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) at the start of the picture and leaves him a bloody, quivering ruin in a frigid and harshly beautiful wilderness.
That scene leaves him at the brink of death. And then, two men — a weaselly John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and a callow young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) tasked to care for him until he dies — bury him and leave. They leave behind as well Glass’ murdered half-Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck).
Nietzsche’s declaration, “What does not kill me, makes me stronger” kicks in here, because Glass, a tough bird, is not dead. And being thus abandoned gives him the strength to crawl from his grave and, defenseless and damaged, lunge forward on his belly through the forest primeval with one all-consuming thought: Track down the men who left him and kill them.
Based on a novel by Michael Punke about an actual 19th-century incident in the days of the Western fur trade, and directed with formidable skill by Oscar winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“Birdman”), “The Revenant” is a tale of man in a state of nature; a nature, in the words of Tennyson, “red in tooth and claw.”
Dangers in its tangled woods include hostile Indians, rapacious rival fur traders and wild beasts (there’s that bear, for example, a mama defending her cubs from a human interloper). And then there’s the weather: implacably cold.
It seems as if the whole subzero world wants to kill Glass. But, stubborn cuss, he will not die. He gets off his belly and back on his feet. Falls in rivers. Falls off a cliff. Freezes in a blizzard. Continues forward. Ever forward.
DiCaprio’s performance is an astonishing testament to his commitment to a role. That’s really him plunging into that river. That’s him staggering half-naked through the teeth-chattering cold. That’s him grabbing a fish out of icy waters and eating it raw.
It’s a performance largely devoid, for long periods, of words, where agony is conveyed by spittle-flecked cries, gasps and moans emerging from a torn throat.
Filming in remote corners of Argentina, Montana and Alberta, Canada, director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki captures the wildness of wilderness in a way that leaves the viewer awed and chilled. The frontier of “The Revenant” — mountainous, traversed by fast-running rivers, covered in woods and filmed using natural light only — is a pitiless place that inspires astonishment and a kind of reverence at what Iñárritu and DiCaprio have accomplished here.
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck.
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
Running time: 2:36.
Rated: R, for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.