Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Oscar Wins: Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Director (Alejandro G. Inarritu), Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), Best Costume Design (Jacqueline West), Best Sound Editing (Martin Hernandez, Lon Bender), Best Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano, Randy Thom, Chris Duesterdiek), Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman, Robert Pandini), Best Visual Effects (Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith, Cameron Waldbauer), Best Film Editing (Stephen Mirrione), Best Production Design (Jack Fisk, Hamish Purdy)
SUMMARY: In 1823, Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) is the head of a group of fur trappers working in unsettled territory in the Midwest United States (probably along the Missouri River). Among his men are guide Hugh Glass (Leondardo DiCaprio) and his son Hawk, who is half-Pawnee. While Glass and Hawk are hunting, the camp is attacked by Arikara Indians. Many of the men are killed, and most of the pelts they have collected are left behind as the men flee to their boat. Glass and Hawk are among the survivors, as are Henry, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). Some of the men, including Fitzgerald, want to simply sail the boat downriver to safety, but Glass argues that it would be wiser to go on foot to Fort Kiowa. Despite Fitzgerald’s objections, Henry decides to go with Glass’s plan; since they cannot carry their supplies and the pelts, they hide the pelts by the river. While camped one day, Glass accidentally gets between a mother grizzly bear and her cub. The bear attacks him several times before he manages to kill it; when the others find him, he is badly mauled and near death. Fitzgerald believes that they will never be able to stay away from the Arikara while carrying Glass on a stretcher, so he advocates a mercy killing. Henry reluctantly agrees to do this, but finds himself unable to actually shoot Glass. Instead, he offers money to a small group of men to stay with Glass and tend to him until he dies or help arrives. With most of their pelts (and therefore, their money) gone, Fitzgerald agrees to stay behind, along with Hawk and Bridger. Before leaving, Henry warns Fitzgerald is to receive all the care he deserves. Against, the odds, Glass remains alive, and seemingly lucid at least part of the time. However, Fitzgerald continues to worry about Indian attacks. He tries to smother Glass (perhaps with Glass’s permission), but is stopped by Hawk. Fitzgerald then turns on Hawk and stabs him to death as Glass watches. In the morning, Fitzgerald wakes Bridger up and tells him that the Arikara are coming: he says they must leave Glass and flee for their lives. Bridger is extremely reluctant to go back on his promise to Henry, but decides he must leave with Fitzgerald. As he leaves, he places his canteen, marked with a special symbol, on Glass’s chest.
The next day, Glass regains some control over his body, which is still gravely injured. His right ankle/leg is badly broken, forcing him to drag himself along the ground. However, he manages to drag himself to the river, where he gets water and cauterizes his neck wound with gunpowder. He eventually fashions himself a cane/crutch that allows him to walk upright, though he is still unsteady. His sole thought is of revenge for his son’s murder, and he begins to pursue Fitzgerald through the wilderness. He is also forced to contend with the Arikara, who are just behind him. They are searching for the chief’s daughter, Powaqa, who has been kidnapped (the chief thinks that the trappers have her). Unbeknownst to him, the French trappers that he frequently works and trades with are the ones who have kidnapped Powaqa, and she is actually in the camp that he visits. During his trek, Glass comes across a Pawnee man named Hikuc, who is also all alone. The two begin traveling together, and when Glass falls gravely ill Hikuc builds a shelter in the middle of a blizzard to care for him. Some time later, Glass wakes up in the shelter and goes outside. He finds Hikuc hung from a tree with a French sign around his neck. Glass finds the French camp and sees one of the men raping Powaqa. He rescues her, then steals a horse, killing several trappers in the process (Powaqa kills her rapist). However, he drops the canteen left by Bridger. Bridger and Fitzgerald have made it to Fort Kiowa, as have the other remaining members of their company. When questioned by Henry, Fitzgerald says that Glass died and Hawk ran off; Bridger reluctantly agrees to this story. One day, a French trapper staggers into the fort, telling a story of how his company was ambushed by one man. He also has the canteen the man left behind — and Fitzgerald and Bridger suddenly realize that Glass is alive. Fitzgerald immediately flees, while an enraged Henry beats Bridger and sends out a search party. Miraculously, they find Glass and take him back to the fort to receive medical care. Glass vouches for Bridger, saying that Fitzgerald lied to him about the Arikara, and that he didn’t want to leave. Henry decides to go after Fitzgerald, and even though Glass has only just arrived at the fort, he demands to go along. When they get close to Fitzgerald they split up, but Henry is attacked and killed by Fitzgerald. To lure out Fitzgerald, Glass puts the corpse on its horse, then lays over the other horse, pretending to be Henry’s body. Fitzgerald takes the bait and comes after the corpse, only to be shot in the arm by Glass. The fight travels down to the riverbank, where both men stab and injure the other. Glass finally gains the upper hand, but suddenly sees a group of Arikara watching. He also remembers Hikuc’s statement about revenge being God’s responsibility, and backs off. He pushes Fitzgerald into the river, where he floats down to the Arikara. The Arikara, the same band that have been chasing Glass, scalp and kill Fitzgerald. However, perhaps on the recommendation of the rescued Powaqa, they ignore Glass. Alone once more, and again seriously injured, Glass heads into the mountains.
MY TAKE: I think that when most people think of this film, they think of mainly two things: the bear attack and Leo finally winning an Oscar. On that note, when Titanic came out, did anybody expect the two leads to go on to be two of the most respected actors of their generation? I love that movie, but I can’t say that I saw that coming. They were definitely more teen-idol roles, at least in my mind (though neither was a teenager at the time). Now they both have Oscars, for two very harrowing performances. The really memorable moment of the film is the bear attack, which is as awful as advertised. Glass mistakenly gets between a mother grizzly and her cub, and basically right as he realizes it he is attacked from behind by the mother. I did sort of question how a tracker like Glass could miss the signs of a bear being in the area, but obviously he did. The horrible thing is that the bear doesn’t just attack and then leave — it keeps coming back, over and over again. It’s probably a good thing that Glass was wearing so many heavy layers — if he was wounded that badly anyway, he surely couldn’t have survived in thinner clothes. By some miracle, he survives, and actually manages to start travelling. I really don’t know how he walked on that right leg, which was nasty-twisted in the wrong direction. He also had to deal with a gaping wound in his throat that seemed to affect his voicebox, since he only really talked in a hoarse whisper after that. The first time he tried to drink something, the water basically came right back out of his throat, along with blood. Glass then did something both brilliant and stupid: he put gunpowder in his throat and lit it on fire. I thought he was completely insane, and was going to blow his own head off. There was a small flash explosion, but he managed to cauterize the wound and stop the bleeding. Still seems incredibly dumb though. I’m also not sure how he survived numerous other events, like sleeping outside in clothes that he had just swum through the freezing river in. I’m sure they were fairly waterproof, but they had to have been soaked. One would think that they would at least freeze themselves, if not him, too. I’m sure that a lot of people will also remember the horse scene, where Glass guts the horse and sleeps inside the carcass to stay warm. This was gross, but didn’t bother me that much, as I could see the sense in it. I wouldn’t want to do it, though. Luckily for Glass, he helps out Powaqa on the way, which probably saved him later on. Her chief dad wasn’t too sharp, though — he couldn’t figure out that the very people he was in frequent contact with were the ones who had his daughter, not the American trappers. This was actually a confusing part for me, as I couldn’t figure out why he thought the Americans had her, and apparently visited the French camp several times without finding out his daughter was there. I’m still not sure why they killed Fitzgerald, since he obviously didn’t kidnap Powaqa. If you didn’t notice, this film actually has a historical basis — Jim Bridger went on to become a fairly famous explorer. Hugh Glass was a real person, and did claim to have survived a bear attack and walked several hundred miles to safety. However, the details and accuracy of this claim have been disputed, and the movie takes a lot of license with the already-suspect story. However, it’s not billed as a true story, so that didn’t bother me too much. Glass’s survival is improbable, but it made for a very good movie.
RATING: Very good.