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Film Review: The Revenant (2015)

If ever a man has suffered quite as much as Leonardo di Caprio does in his latest film The Revenant, I’d like to see him. This is man v nature on a grand scale. Bear Grylls eat your heart out. On the one hand The Revenant is a fairly standard revenge thriller in the mould of Sergio Leone, but set in the equally awe inspiring Alaskan (or is that Canadian?) wilderness. Wherever this is set, there’s lots of bears – grizzly ones.

On the other hand it’s a kind of parable in the mould of Dante’s Inferno or Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a tale of one man’s struggle to survive against overwhelming odds. It’s about stoicism, justice and faith. Certainly there’s an emphasis on some kind of spirituality here, for when at his lowest ebb – and there’s plenty of low ebbs here – Di Caprio’s trapper ‘sees’ plenty of visions and what-nots.

Hell, if Di Caprio isn’t falling off precipices he’s being mauled by grizzly bears, and if he’s not being thrown around by his short and curlies by said bears, he’s being chased over clifftops by marauding Indians. Yep you got it, The Revenant is also a good old fashioned romp with more than a nod or two to films such as Deliverance and Southern Comfort. Only in this scenario it’s fur trappers v Indians.

Throw in some admittedly rather breath-taking cinematography focused on the sheer vastness of the landscape and what you get is a rather watchable if formulaic film. When taken together with an absolutely deafening soundtrack of rivers, wind and thundery skies emphasising the sheer power of nature, The Revenant is nothing if not a loud film. Ear plugs recommended. At two and a half hours long it’s arguably half an hour longer than it really ought to be, but who’s counting? It’s often violent and at times bloody. Indeed the film opens and closes with that rather chilling contrast of blood on snow.

The film’s opening sequence is particularly well executed as the fur trappers are ambushed by natives. Phew. The heart beats faster here I can tell ya. And the graphic leg-stabbing that ends the film also gets close to the knuckle, or should that be the knee? It is graphic, but on balance not gratuitous. This is, after all, the wilderness, red in tooth and claw. Very red actually.

And so Leo, complete with Moses-like staff and beard not to mention some wicked bruises following his disagreement with that grizzly with a sore head, finds himself alone in the wilderness. The grizzly altercation is just one of many moments that will have an audience gasping with horror. This is a seriously painful scene to sit through.

Our hero then faces a serious of insurmountable challenges not least of which is biting the heads of live fish. Unable to walk, he out crawls gangs of marauding Indians whom the film's attitude towards would seem to be one of ambivalence. In these enlightened times it’s not really PC to portray Indians as savages, a proviso which the film does struggle with at times. Hence they tend to fade in and out then pop up at the end, as if once invoked the film doesn't quite know what to do with them.

Having said all that this western-with-a-twist format should satisfy fans of both western and adventure genres. I’m not sure the final quarter of this film - the revenge motif – works quite as successfully as the return-home-against-all-odds motif of the first two hours, but that’s probably just me. Di Caprio is always easy to watch. And so too is The Revenant. If you have ever wondered what Leo would look like as a member of ZZ Top (and who amongst us hasn’t?) wonder no more. Let’s just say this film ain’t no cure for pognophobia.

For my money this film falls short of epic by a few pounds, but there are flashes of brilliance. Nature is a force to be reckoned with, that’s a clear message. Stripped of civilisation, what would you do? Sink or swim? I mean it’s bad enough being stranded in the wilderness, but the real horror only truly emerges when you realise he hasn't even got an I-phone.