January 10, 2016 -- This is an amazing-looking film with a couple of how-in-the-world-did-they-do-that scenes. It works as a tale of survival, adventure yarn, revenge saga and spiritual journey. Loosely based on the real life exploits of mountain man Hugh Glass and the novel of the same name written by Michael Punke, the story may seem far fetched, but no less amazing than what actually happened in real life.
Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is acting as a scout for an 1823 fur-trading expedition led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson of “Ex Machina”) when he is badly mauled by a bear and left for dead. The bear mauling scene is simply amazing and brutal as the bear shakes the man like a rag doll at one point. I could not tell how it was staged.
Henry asks for volunteers to look after Glass, who is expected to die because of the extent of his injuries, while the rest of the party goes ahead. Glass' son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) volunteers, as well a young Jim Bridger (played by Will Poulter of “The Maze Runner”) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy of “Mad Max: Fury Road ”). Henry says he will pay the men if they stay with Glass until he dies, or recovers.
Fitzgerald, worried about being killed by a pursuing band of natives (presumably Arikara warriors) who had attacked the party earlier, decides to kill Glass and collect the money. Hawk catches him in the act. Fitzgerald kills Hawk and convinces Bridger to leave Glass for dead in a shallow grave. Glass is left alone, many miles from the nearest outpost, Fort Kiowa (in what is now South Dakota) with no weapons or supplies.
With a broken leg, Glass has to crawl for miles until he gets to a river, where he is able to catch fish. Glass has all sorts of adventures on his way back to civilization. He escapes a couple of fierce native warrior attacks. He rescues a kidnapped Arikara woman from the clutches of trappers. He is rescued by a Native Pawnee (Hawk was half Pawnee and Glass speaks the language). He steals a horse from French trappers. He rides a horse off a cliff (another amazing stunt and effects shot). He cuts open a dead, but still warm, horse and gets inside it to escape the cold. He eats raw fish and buffalo meat. He survives a long swim in a very cold river.
Not only are the stunts and effects amazing in this movie, the makeup effects are also great. The wounds and scars on Glass and others look striking. Glass is grievously wounded by the bear and looks it. Fitzgerald survived a partial scalping, and that scar looks real, too. The wilderness scenery and gripping action are stunningly captured by award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
Glass does cheat in a couple of scenes, getting more than one shot out of a one-shot pistol, thanks to Hollywood magic. In real life, he would have had to have more than one pistol, or would have to have time to reload (not a fast process with these ancient guns) in order to shoot a pistol more than once in a fight. But besides those mistakes, the action in the film is first-rate.
The acting by DiCaprio, Domhnall Gleeson and Hardy (who has had an amazing year with this film, portraying Mad Max in one film and the twin Kray Brothers in “Legend”) is excellent. Gleeson is another actor who seems to be everywhere these days, with prominent roles in this film, as well as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Brooklyn” and “Ex Machina” in 2015. The story, by writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, is captivating and the director maintains both pace and suspense throughout. This film rates a B+.
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