The Revenant ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Reviewed on Cinema Eclectica.

For all the bears, birds and bison in Alejandro González Iñárritu's new movie, the animal it most resembles is a white elephant. I finished reading Michael Punke's source novel on the morning of the day I went to see it, and I thought it was a decent page-turner with plenty of scope for improvement. What Iñárritu does is smother it in prestige and self-importance while also cutting away the actual character complexity in Punke's novel.

Towards the end of the novel, Fitzgerald tries to justify his abandonment of Glass, to Glass's fury. Punke leaves the final moral judgment to the reader; Fitzgerald is a bad man in a lot of ways, but so is Glass, and Fitzgerald isn't entirely unjustified in assuming that Glass isn't going to recover from the bear attack. (The reader is stunned enough that he survives it, after all, and we're only reading this experience...)

In the film, by contrast, Glass is a sensitive modern liberal lost in the old west, with a half-Native American child who exists to lead into some wholly wretched cod-spiritual flashbacks to Glass's old life and give Fitzgerald something truly unforgivable to do. Rather than have Glass's plans for revenge frustrated, Glass is about to deliver the death blow to Fitzgerald when he has the most insincerely timed moral epiphany since Steven Seagal in On Deadly Ground. And then he hands Fitzgerald over to some Native Americans who kill him anyway, so that's all sorted out.

The Revenant is a hell of a spectacle, and there's no arguing against the passion and commitment of its cast. But every choice in the adaptation makes this a cruder, less complex, more stereotypically Hollywood story than its already pulpy enough source.

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