“The Revenant”

Golden Globe winner for Best Picture and Best Actor has a lot to offer in nature imagery and in its subtle score, but the award could have read “The Revenant: Most Ambitious Film of The Year”. For undertaking a five-minute bear mauling, spirituality of many stripes, subsistence living amidst sleet and snow, and brutal hand-to-hand rampages needs quite a production, especially when one is filming in natural light in a place where there are only a few hours of daylight. It is recorded at the end of the film’s credits that 15,000 jobs were needed to pull this cinematic marvel off.

Certainly, Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has a chance for a back-to-back Oscar following his “Birdman” last year. For over two and a half hours, he lays the starkly gorgeous high frontier over for our awe. My only disclaimer is that while I connected to nature, I never connected to the characters. French fur trappers never looked or acted more cave-mannish. Tom Hardy was so thick tongued that three-quarters of his mutterings were lost. Those we heard were lies. Hardy’s Fitzgerald is a complaining irritant who does not hold back his needs or his racism as he calls Hugh Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) a “half-breed”. Fitzgerald’s “Enjoy your revenge: Nothing is going to bring your boy back.” is both malicious and hopeful.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Huge Glass) deserves an Oscar for playing the wily navigator of this pelt-snatching gang. One of the most surprising scenes of the movie involves his clever mummy charade. DiCaprio crawls on his stomach over icy terrain, catches and consumes raw fish and meat, is carried by icy, swift rapids “Deliverance” style,and melts lead shot to plug a hole in his esophagus. He leaps over a snowy cliff, guts his broken horse and crawls this time into its carcass to shelter from an ice storm. He is a wonder of survival tactics.

“The Revenant”‘s dream sequences give the back story of Huge Glass which is based in part from a true story and in part from an unpublished novel by Michael Punke. (published in January, 2015) Montana and South Dakota trappers made their livelihood skinning, cleaning, and trading pelts. They fought Native tribes for this resource.

The whizz of arrows and the ferocity of their velocity is as beautiful as the mossy, forest primeval ravines. Sound plays a major role in the film;for example,we hear the mama grizzly before we see her. Her power is made visceral. It is an amazing sequence of visual effects. The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bruce Dressner and Alva Noto is emotionally leading. The drum rolls presage the cliff fall, the cellos and oboes lift our gaze to the trees and sky and then all is quite but DiCaprio’s breathing.

Alberta, Canada is the locale and the film takes us back to pre-“Mrs. Mike” days, when French fur traders ran the show amid many Native tribes. Royal Mounties were yet to be in 1820. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography uses earth, wind and fire and water to ground us. Though a favorite still is of Huge’s Cherokee wife hovering vertically a foot above him in a sun-warmed wheat field. Lubezki’s slow-moving camera rolls with the terrain and with Glass’salved wounds. Fort Kiowa is captured in all its gritty detail, but the eye of the bison, and the three swimming stags, and the foggy breath cloud-morphing will stay with you.

As snow melt ripples and flows,and villages burn, two more key characters emerge with the starkly graphic still photography. Will Poulter as Jim Bridges and Domhnall Gleeson as Captain Andrew Henry contribute to the back and forth story. They both feel strongly that Glass be given a proper burial: he has earned it. Fitzgerald falsely leads both and then runs. The final bloody knife and ax combat is savage. DiCaprio’s snot-frozen face glazed as he gazes in the camera makes revenge look less than triumphant. Twelve Oscar nominations will be played out on February 26th. I think “The Revenant” will return with five.