Brutal, bold, and beautiful

Without forgetting bloody, intense, and controversial. Here we go, #4 in an occasional series, the latest in my list of favourite wilderness and outdoor movies. This time, I’ve gone up to the minute, unafraid to seize the bull (or buffalo) by the horns, and thrown myself headlong into the furore that is the publicist’s dream surrounding “The Revenant” (dir. Alejandro Inarritu, 20th Century Fox, 2015). You know, the one where a man goes for a very long walk intent on exacting revenge upon those who left him for dead. It’s not heavy on plot, but it is heavy on everything else.

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How could an almost outdoorsman resist?! Rugged winter scenery? Tests of survival? Nineteenth century setting? Buffalo and bears? First Nations and trappers? Beards? It’s like all my birthdays arrived at once. Throw in a much admired director and cinematographer, an excellent cast list, and it was all Mrs PlaidCamper could do to calm down an overexcited little boy heading in. Yikes, I hope I like it…

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Best make my position clear here – I loved the movie, flaws and all. One large reason is that it was shot in part in Kananaskis, little more than an hour from our door. The locations had such an air of familiarity, it was like coming home on the big screen. I’m sure that many have been spellbound by how beautiful the mountain and foothill regions are as depicted in this movie. Kananaskis is an area of outstanding beauty, and the movie takes full advantage. The cinematographer – Emmanuel Lubezki – shot outdoors in natural light, often early or late in the day, and the results are breathtaking.

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I’ve written before about how the outdoor setting in a wilderness movie can be like an extra character, and in “The Revenant’ this is certainly true. Nature here is shown as terrifying, fierce, seductive, raw, and overwhelming in scope and power. This is quite possibly almost to the detriment of the movie. The human tales of revenge, greed, betrayal, love, and honour are compelling enough, but the sheer magnitude of the movie settings threaten to swamp or distract from the story. I didn’t mind, because the movie is more than just beautiful to look at. It is bold, thought-provoking and challenging.

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There is no beauty in violence, and “The Revenant” doesn’t shrink from being brutal. The scenes of conflict between Native Americans and European fur traders are realistic. Arrows fly, knives stab, lances pierce, musket balls strike, and hatchets inflict awful injuries. The movie has received criticism for being violent. Given the setting and source material, it is naive to expect this movie to be free from violence. I don’t think the violence is gratuitous; it serves the story, and most viewers ought to be aware of this before purchasing a ticket. However, it is more than wince-inducing, as acts of violence should be.

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Staying with the violence, not all the horror is between humans. There is a bear attack, and it is scary. You will wince (again), forget to breathe, and grip your seat. You certainly won’t blame the bear, or the character for defending himself, and you’ll never wonder again what a bear attack might feel like. It is absolutely terrifying, and for me, wonderful movie-making. I want to be moved to feel something, and if it is fear, then great.

Feeling transported by a story on screen or on the page is essential. The setting works, the action engages, and, most importantly, the acting is convincing. You might think that some of the harrowing situations endured by Hugh Glass – played by Leonardo DiCaprio – are too much for any one human to survive, but DiCaprio gives his all in showing the cost Glass pays for survival. As his travails mount, you do start to think maybe Glass/DiCaprio deserves a break, and could you really survive even one of the incidents?

DSCF1815It is all so well acted, so thoroughly immersive, that you forgive the slightly ludicrous powers of recovery displayed by Glass. Based on true events, my guess is the writers and director fell prey to the tendency to over dramatize when there was no need, and shrink timelines to serve the running time. A slight criticism, and it leads to my next, that the movie is too long. I do like a movie that can breathe, unfold and explore. However, for this movie, the truth is the revenge plot is clear, and maybe we don’t need quite so many tribulations and sufferings for Glass. The audience will get it! Those rivers and streams are deathly cold, the storms can kill, bears are a bit dangerous, wounds do get infected, starvation isn’t great, don’t get abandoned and buried alive, and falling over cliff edges will hurt. Revenge must really be a motivator for Glass…

That said, you have to admire the artistry. The director is in full control of his camera, with close ups of actors pulling back to reveal scenery and backdrops that delight. The camera weaves and bobs, low along the ground, then at human eye height, in long takes that are expertly constructed to draw you in and feel and see what the characters are experiencing. Their surprise, shock, horror, and pain is yours too.

IMG_20160109_152512Like I said at the top, I did love this movie. As an almost outdoorsman, I could only admire the survival skills of Glass. I wouldn’t have lasted one tenth of the time! As a resident of Alberta, I delighted in how the movie showcases our outstanding province. For the convincing period detail, gripping yet unsettling action scenes, wonderful acting by the entire cast (Tom Hardy has a marvellous role, and his character, John Fitzgerald, is more emotionally interesting than Hugh Glass), and amazing control the director exerts scene after scene, I highly recommend “The Revenant”. It’s not for the squeamish, but the fully immersive experience, the commitment of the cast and crew, and sheer boldness of the undertaking makes this one to watch.

Have you seen “The Revenant”? Is it as good as I think it is, or an overlong and violent art house movie? As always, thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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Published by

plaidcamper

I am a would be outdoorsman - that is if I had more time, skills and knowledge. When I can, I love being outdoors, just camping, hiking, snowboarding, xc skiing, snowshoeing, paddling a canoe or trying something new. What I lack in ability, I make up for in enthusiasm and having a go. I'd never really survive for long out there in the wild, but I enjoy pretending I could if I had to...

36 thoughts on “Brutal, bold, and beautiful”

  1. Love all your photos. Had to laugh at your enthusiasm for this movie. Sorry, was not trying to make fun of you, just knew this was a movie you were enthralled with. I saw previews of this movie, but have not seen it yet. Yes, I am a woman, but I do love these exciting, action packed movies and this is one that I would watch.

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  2. I want to see it, but since I am definitely among the squeamish, I think I’ll hold off for awhile. And my imagination doesn’t need any help in coming up with horrific bear attacks, so I’ll for sure not be watching that scene. I’ll settle for reading about it in great posts like this one!

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    1. Happy you enjoyed reading about the movie, even if you might not see it. It is a hard one to watch for the squeamish, but in between the wincing scenes, there’s much to appreciate!
      Thanks for reading and commenting, and have a wonderful weekend!

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  3. Excellent review, Mr. PlaidCamper! I don’t keep up with the movie scene anymore, so I didn’t even know that “The Revenant” existed, but it didn’t take me long to realize that the flick could be based on a story I’m familiar with. I know it from a historical novel called Lord Grizzly, by Frederick Manfred, first printed in 1954. A very interesting read. The movie could be based on pre-Lord Grizzly info, but I’m guessing it’s inspired by this novel.
    In any case, you did a fine review, and I’d like to see this movie. Even your “slight criticisms” seem on the mark, in my estimation. Thanks so much. Till viewing time, I am moved to take my Lord Grizzly off the shelf for a rereading of Hugh Glass’s incredible adventure.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Walt! The movie did play around with the Hugh Glass story, changing location etc. so it is likely rather loosely inspired by his adventures. I’m certainly going to track down a copy of Lord Grizzly, sounds like one to read.
      The Revenant is worth catching, faults and all, if only because it seems increasingly rare to find a movie so committed to inhabiting a time and place as fully as it does. The way it embraces the natural world reminds me of Terrence Malick movies. Let me know what you think, if you get around to seeing it.
      Enjoy your weekend!

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  4. I am eagerly awaiting my day off to watch the Revenant. Also, Alberta is such an epic province. The landscapes in the winter are just out of this world. Beautiful pictures, and as always be well my friend.

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    1. Hi, John, I think you’ll enjoy the movie – lots of beautiful Alberta settings, and a pretty good adventure story! I’d be interested in your thoughts about the movie.
      Enjoy your weekend!

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  5. I would love the scenery, the study of the people but thank you for the description -I will pass on this one because I am too squeamish! Perhaps later on the small screen where I can pull back and disengage somewhat.Poor Leo ! Will he ever live down not knowing what a chinook is?

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    1. Apologies for being so late to reply – I overlooked your comment and kind words.
      Poor Leo, indeed! His heart is in the right place though, and he surely did suffer making this one…
      I hope you’ve had a pleasant weekend!

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  6. You just convinced me to give this one a try! A couple of weeks ago we went to see the Hateful Eight. I didn’t care about the movie but it made me investigate cabin prices in Wyoming. The movie was actually shot in Telluride, CO but I know I can’t afford anything from there…

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  7. Thanks for the recommendation. We rarely make it to movie theaters so I’ll probably miss it on the big screen, but I think it would be a great choice for a “movie night” at home. We have a commercial popcorn popper and comfy leather chairs in front of the TV. Seems like this movie will be a great Blu–ray choice for a winter night!

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  8. Terrific post Adam! As always you gave me a few chuckles with your delightful and dry humor, and the photos are stunning. Your “back yard” is such a gorgeous place in the world. Your movie review is thorough and compelling, too. Many thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Jet! For me, it was a pretty terrific movie, and the bonus was seeing our “back yard” shot so beautifully. If you’re ok with the tougher elements, it’s fine way to see Alberta!
      Have a wonderful week!

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  9. Whoa, yes!

    The Revenant was one of the most intense movies I have ever watched, and the more I found out about how it was filmed (no artificial lighting, DeCaprio doing a lot of the flesh eating) the more I fall in love with it. That has to be crazy for it to be so close to home! I would feel weird about seeing a bunch of indians with bow and arrows running around on horses in my back yard! Yikes, one for the books, for sure.

    Also, great post! You are an excellent writer.

    Natasha

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    1. I apologize for not replying sooner – WordPress had your comment marked as spam…but anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and thank you for your kind words, and for stopping by, it is appreciated!
      I hope your week is going well!

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