They don't make 'em like this one any more, that's for damned sure...
By: Jimbo X
Over the last decade or so, the modern American film has gotten so utterly emasculated that when confronted by a stark vision of pioneering manliness, we initially have no idea how to interpret it. After a season at that movies full of Minions and Iron Men and the aberrant affirmative action boxing flick and pro-entrepreneurialism women's empowerment biopic, it took me about 20 minutes before I realized the cast of The Revenant were supposed to be human beings on Earth. My brain has been so inundated with the Hollywood ideal that men - especially white men - are ignorant, ignoble and generally contemptible buffoons that I almost couldn't process the film. Alas, around the time Leo DiCaprio got into a kung-fu fight with a grizzly bear, it all came roaring back to me - indeed, you could even say it served as something of an awakening.
Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin beating the living shit out of each other on top of the train in Emperor of the North Pole. Roy Scheider driving a truck filled with extremely explosive chemicals over a dilapidated bridge in Sorcerer. Every slow-motion car crash in Convoy, every politically incorrect zinger in Slap Shot and of course, images of Charles Bronson pounding dudes half to death in the Great Depression in Hard Times dethawed in my hippocampus - that long-lost part of it that enjoys running backs getting knocked unconscious and pissing in the backyard. Not since Gran Torino has a major studio-backed, star-studded offering imbued me with such a sense of testosterone-addled bliss. By the time this movie is over, you will walk out of the theater with a mountain man beard, and if you are one of those hirsute hispter dingbats who have co-opted the ZZ Top look, rest assured this film's unabashed celebration of American ruggedness will cause every last fiber to fall off your face in utter disgust.
The strange thing about all this is that the film's director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, is a Mexican director who grew up in what could only be called a life of privilege. He's probably the last person you would think would helm a film celebrating the masculine survival instinct, let alone its Americanized version. That said, as he demonstrated with Birdman, he's a dude that definitely has a deft understanding of the world in front of his camera lens. The Revenant is an incredible film, through and through, a sort of revival of the old school frontier justice picture Hollywood had to stop making in the 1960s because all the hippies were just too pussy to understand them. After the cloying P.C. onslaught of Fury Road and The Force Awakens, this flick isn't just a palate cleanser: it's a cinder block upside the head designed to knock the very taste out of you.
The film begins innocuously enough. The kid from Critters 3 is hanging out in the South Dakota Plains, trying to shoot him some squirrel, when out of nowhere, a bunch of Pawnee Indians raid their camp and steal all their furs (indeed, this might just be the most blood-soaked, corpse-littered opening 20 minutes at the movies since Saving Private Ryan.) So the camp survivors hop on a creaky old boat and set up camp downstream. That's when Leo - his character's name is Hugh Glass, and all this is based on what is supposed to be a true story - gets nearly mauled to death by a bear. Folks, this scene alone deserves Leo an Oscar. I mean, any thespian worth his salt can cite some Shakespeare and shed a few tears on cue, but how many actors out there can believably act like they're being chewed to death by an 800 pound forest creature for 15 minutes straight?
After that, the rest of the crew finds Leo and they reckon he ain't too long for this Earth. So they bring him back to camp, and Tom Hardy tries to smother him to death to put him out of his misery but Leo's Indian son makes the pro wrestling save but he ends up getting killed in the process. So now Leo is super-pissed, but because he's running on at most 2 percent biological battery life, all he can do is just lay there and breathe heavy. Tom's character - we know he's an evil sumbitch because he uses the term "tree nigger" - then convinces his young subordinate (played by, of all people, the kid who portrayed Kenny in We're the Millers) to help him bury Leo alive 'cause they think the Indians are hot on their trail. So they do precisely that, but not before Kenny scratches the Sega Dreamcast logo on a metal canteen, just because.
And then's when things get really wacky. Using no doubt the same supernatural will Hulk Hogan oft summons when things are looking down in his championship contests, Leo gathers his strength and pulls himself out of the dirtnap right before a bunch of Pawnees steal the junk left behind by the other traders. And if you're concerned this film paints an insensitive portrait of indigenous Americans, don't you worry your pretty little head; there's a subplot in there about the Pawnee chief seeking revenge for his daughter being kidnapped by Anglos, and at one point, he tells a French fur trapper that goddamn whitey took everything from them and they're just trying to get back what's rightfully theirs.
So Leo is on the run, eating bird guts and sleeping underneath rocks and having arrows shot at him while he's swept up in a river current and falling down mountain cliffs like Homer Simpson. As a blizzard kicks in, he encounters a friendly Indian, who gives him some deep fried buffalo and nurses him back to health. Then, the damned French come in and kill the helpful native American, which gives Leo a strong incentive to go shoot some froths, free their captured squaws (who proceed to cut the testicles off rapist Frenchies) and steal a polk-a-dotted horse, which he immediately runs right off into steep embankment. After spending a few nights sleeping inside an equine corpse, Leo decides it's time for payback, so he makes his way to the old trading post he knows Tom and Kenny were traveling to. And without giving away the ending, I'll just say this: not since They Live has there been such a needlessly violent and overlong fistfight at American cineplexes ... and yes, it IS as awesome as it sounds.
I could give you a long spiel about how great the cinematography is in the film, but you already know that. The acting is top-notch - Leo and Tom both deserve the Academy Award for their performances - but what surprised me is how they acted. This wasn't the typical Daniel Day Lewis method acting showcase; it was dudes literally out there in the arctic abyss, having to wade in frigid rivers and walk around naked and bloody in the snow and roll down hills and from time to time set parts of their own throats on fire. This wasn't stage melodrama, it was a throwback to old school cinematic madness, back when directors like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah would literally put their cast in potentially deadly situations for the art of it. This Inarritu fellow just gets it: true acting isn't about putting on a fake accent and looking good in lavish costumes, it's about channeling real life anger, fear and hatred into your performance and making the audience forget they're watching something totally fabricated.
That's what makes The Revenant such an awesome movie. It is complete anathema to the current Hollywood movie model; instead of embracing the fantastical and the impossible and the modern and the convenient and the luxurious, it is a film that celebrates the grim, and the gritty, and the naturalistic and the realistic and the outright horribleness of our past. With our smart phones and Instagram and K-Cup coffee makers, we are about as far removed from the era of The Revenant as we are the motherfucking Paleolithic era. This is a reminder of what life was like before it got so easy and comfortable, which naturally, upsets those young Turks who have never known - or appreciated - the sacrifices of our pioneering elders.
Probably the thing I appreciated most about The Revenant was how it was a totally apolitical picture. This isn't a movie like 12 Years a Slave or The Butler where the entire movie is basically screaming at you "LOOK AT ALL THE BAD THINGS WHITE PEOPLE HAVE DONE OVER THE LAST 200 YEARS." Instead, it's just a story about one man, trying to survive being killed by both the elements and his fellow man. There is no real moral agenda being pushed here, even with the large Indian cast and some subtle allusions to the genocides of the 19th century. The past was nasty and dirty and lethal for everybody, the film's central message seems to be - an obvious assertion that, in this time of hyper-conformity, is nonetheless considered social narrative heresy.
Whatever the opposite of glitz and glamour is, The Revenant is probably it. This is a movie about people with mud-caked beards walking around in bear skins setting fires and trying not to freeze to death. Over the course of 2 hours and 45 minutes, not a single character in the film so much as shoots a smile. It is violent and has a lot of cursing and everybody's fingernails have at least three ounces of soil embedded under them. A lot of stuff bleeds, there's more than one scalping and if you've ever wanted to see what a horse's endocrine system looked like from the inside out, by golly, The Revenant shows it to you twice.
And it was the best time I've had at the movies all year round. Go see this one on the big screen while you still can, folks - you most certainly won't regret it.
Four Tofu Dogs out of Four.