Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
(R, 156 min.)
Genre: Drama, Action and Adventure
“Revenge is dish best served cold.” Sicilian Proverb
Jack London lives again in this brutal tale of survival and revenge. The key here is authenticity, and the cast and crew suffer for it almost as much as the legendary real life fur trapper who inspired the film.
In fact, the filming has gotten almost more buzz that the film itself. The hyped bear attack is so visceral and close up, it even generated a now debunked rumor that its star, Leonard DiCaprio was “raped” by the beast, which actually turns out to be a female defending her cubs. DiCaprio’s fur trapper Hugh Glass also plunges into near freezing water, sleeps in a horse carcass he has just disemboweled, and eats raw bison liver. No wonder so many of the minor cast and crewmembers actually abandoned the nine-month filming that took place in Canada and Argentina.
Complicating things was the insistence of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki that everything be filmed in natural light. Given the remote locations, often 40 percent of the day was taken just getting to the scene, putting extra pressure on the actors to get everything just about perfect on the first take.
This might be one instance where the ridiculous salaries given the actors actually make a little sense, at least.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won an Oscar for Best Director in last year’s Birdman, which did not enamor many viewers or this film critic either, is spectacular here. He is not just working to crank out another blockbuster sequel for the studio, hitting all the time tested right buttons. Iñárritu is a genuine artist obsessed with his craft. The perfectionist, who did the entire shoot in sequence, an inefficient method mostly discarded by modern directors, also had problems with the weather.
As fate would have it, when the production was counting on snow, it was so warm near Calgary that even attempts to manufacture it or truck it in failed. Later, temperatures dipped to 25 degrees below zero, or minus 40 degrees with the windchill factor. But since the action at that point was set in the autumn, actors were asked to go without hats and gloves. "Everybody was frozen, the equipment was breaking; to get the camera from one place to another was a nightmare," says Iñárritu
But the film, which largely avoids computer-generated effects, is well worth the effort, unless perhaps you happen to be the 22-year-old extra who was dragged naked over the ice in an epic battle scene.
It is not just the stunning National Geographic scenery that enthralls us, though. It is the compelling tale of survival and the mesmerizing performance of DiCaprio, who abandons his charm and banter for a role that is almost mute. He must put all his emotions into his eyes, make every gasping, painful word he utters count. The comfort of a studio green room probably would not have created such a compelling feat. The actor did not have to feign near hypothermia. He felt it. And by turning down a fake jello filling for the real raw bison liver, we get a real gag and his triumph over it committed to film as well.
Tom Hardy, who also dissolves into his roles seamlessly, is the perfect foil for the resolute DiCaprio. Hardy’s John Fitzgerald, the fellow trapper who leaves his mauled companion to die, is loose with his words and promises, embittered and ruthless as events turn against him.
The assortment of others – Native Americans, French trappers, and cavalry – emerge as realistic characters, rather than the stereotypes we often get in these minor roles. The Native American Chief who looks for his stolen daughter is merciless in her pursuit, but he has reason to be so. Captain Andrew Genry (Domhnall Gleeson), who leads the doomed trappers, does his best against bad odds, trying to keep his sense of honor and integrity intact.
Bridger (a now almost grown Will Pouter from 2008’s Son of Rambow) struggles between his code of honor and the will to survive.
The French trappers, not so much.
This film grinds everything down to its essence. It is a brutal landscape that pits man against his fellow man, beasts, and the elements. The Revenant is stark, cold, unrelenting and yet as full of life as the frozen landscape it explores.
Do not miss this epic, my pick for Best Picture this year, with possibly DiCaprio and Director Iñárritu winning Oscars as well.
One of the more riveting scenes in our film is when fur trapper Hugh Glass has to eat a raw bison liver. It’s a third hand meal; the beast is first taken down by a team of wolves, then appropriated by a solitary Pawnee, and finally thrown to Glass as a scrap. He cannot be choosy, you see, so the nearly starving man bites down on it.
To hear the episode in Leonardo DiCaprio’s telling, he actually ate the stuff, having first to bite through the tough membrane containing the liver, and then gagging on the gooey blob that rushed into his mouth as a result. That gagging response is caught on film and adds to the realism.
That Glass has to overcome his body’s initial response and swallow the bloody raw mess is a testament to Glass’s desperation and DiCaprio’s gutsy performance.
But somehow, raw bison liver does quite fit with Different Drummer’s more discriminating tastes. And it certainly will not pass muster for your Academy Awards viewing party in February, where DiCaprio and The Revenant look to be picking up a lot of the 24-karat gold plated Oscars.
Different Drummer delves into her own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook for a more sophisticated version of liver. And we hit upon something Sherlock Holmes feasted upon the famous short story, “The Noble Bachelor.” It is a French version of pâté, infused with brandy and baked into little pastry tarts.
Brandied Foie de Gras Pie
1 cup (1/2 pound) chicken livers
1/2 cup butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
* Small bouquet garni
Black pepper, freshly ground
1 tablespoon brandy
4 to 6 tart sized pre-baked pastry shells
4 to 6 slices sharp cheddar or 6 ounces cream cheese
Freshly cut dill
In a skillet heat 2 tablespoons butter, and fry the onion with the garlic until just beginning to brown. Add the chicken livers, bouquet garni, salt and black pepper, and fry briskly for 3 minutes or until the livers are browned but still pink in the center. Cool, discard the bouquet garni and finely chop mixture or work it in a blender with a little of the remaining butter. Work the mixture through a sieve to remove the liver ducts. Cream the remaining butter and work it into the liver mixture. Add the brandy and taste for seasoning.
Spoon into pastry shells. Cover with a slice of cheddar cheese shaped to fit, or spread a thin layer of cream cheese on top. Garnish with freshly cut dill.
Chill for several hours.