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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

01/06/2016

The Revenant
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — If your idea of entertainment is watching Leonardo DiCaprio gorge on the raw liver of a freshly killed buffalo, then The Revenant (Fox) is for you.

This wilderness survival drama, directed and co-written by Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman), is chock full of squeamish moments. But for adults with stomachs strong enough to last the duration, rewards await: a powerful film with first-rate performances, stunning cinematography, and timely messages about good versus evil, and of redemption versus revenge.

DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, a real-life explorer and fur trader. In 1823, Glass joined an expedition up the Missouri River, led by Capt. Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson).

In what is present-day South Dakota (but filmed in Canada and Argentina), the company of men traps beavers for their prized pelts while enduring the ravages of winter and frequent raids by Native Americans.

Glass sympathizes with the latter, as he married a Pawnee woman (Grace Dove), who was killed by a U.S. soldier. Their mixed-race son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), is a member of the expedition.

Disaster strikes when Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear, an especially grisly scene. Barely alive and unable to move or speak, he must remain behind while the others go for help. Three volunteers agree to stay with him: John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a trigger-happy hunter; Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), a wide-eyed innocent guide; and Hawk.

Capt. Henry’s instructions are clear: care for Glass, but should he succumb, provide a decent burial.

Fitzgerald seethes with impatience, as Glass’ accident has set back his lucrative hunting plans. So he decides to smother Glass to put an end to his misery, and allow the others to move on.

Hawk intervenes to stop the murder, but is killed by Fitzgerald, who proceeds to toss the still-alive Glass into a shallow grave, to Bridger’s horror. The two men then depart, leaving Glass for dead.

Or so they think.

Glass refuses to succumb, crawls out of the grave, and embarks on a 200-mile odyssey through vast uncharted lands to avenge his son’s murder and bring Fitzgerald to justice.

As such, he becomes a “revenant,” or one returned from the dead.

Glass’ reappearance made newspaper headlines at the time, but the details of his story were sketchy, to say the least. Inarritu based his screenplay on the 2002 book “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” by Michael Punke, but admitted embellishing the story for dramatic purposes.

Along the way, Glass is assisted and befriended by a lone Pawnee, Hikuc (Arthur Redcloud). His family was also killed by the “white man,” but he offers measured advice.

“Revenge is in the Creator’s hands, not man’s,” he tells Glass.

Indeed, since seeking revenge is contrary to Christian teaching, we correctly leave the final judgment to God. Whether Glass takes this advice remains to be seen.

The film contains bloody violence and gore, several disturbing images, a sexual assault, brief nudity, and frequent rough, crude, and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

The Hateful Eight
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (Weinstein) is a sprawling, hugely self-indulgent, misogynistic and lengthy beyond bloated (183 minutes, including an intermission) vengeance tale best appreciated only by his most ardent fans.

That’s assuming that long stretches of tedium don’t drive them away. This is one dreary bag of hot gas, without a single breakout monologue to give the story some memorable polish.

As with Django Unchained in 2010, the director-writer shows his mastery of the elements of the classic western, a genre largely ignored for many years except for comedies. There are outlaws, a stagecoach, arguments settled at the point of a gun or the thump of fists, and the characters, all of whom are shown to be morally compromised, endure hostile weather.

And when they’re through talking about all of that, they usually spring into unexpectedly grotesque violence only because Tarantino evidently finds it amusing. He’s not as interested in telling a story with classic techniques as he is in setting up old tropes, then kicking them apart.

So a story that combines a tough winter slog with a claustrophobic murder mystery in a snowbound Wyoming hostelry becomes quite oppressive indeed.

Tarantino puts eight tough-talking louts in Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they have taken shelter in a raging blizzard that makes travel impossible. John Roth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter known as The Hangman because he prefers to deliver criminals alive for their executions.

He has in tow a seemingly feral outlaw, Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and eventually joining him on the stagecoach driven by O.B. (James Parks) to Minnie’s are Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris (Walton Goggins), who is set to be the next sheriff of their destination, Red Rock, as soon as he arrives there.

The proprietress and her husband are not to be found, but there instead are a former Confederate general, Sandy (Bruce Dern), a traveling British hangman, Oswald (Tim Roth), a helpful Mexican stable hand, Bob (Demian Bichir), and the easygoing Joe (Michael Madsen).

As the plot unspools oh-so-slowly, all of these characters are revealed to be far more menacing then their initial exteriors, and Tarantino, in the tradition of an Agatha Christie mystery, starts finding ways to kill off a sufficient quantity until the truth is revealed.

In addition, Daisy sustains quite a large number of punches from John, and Maj. Warren, a former Union officer who claims to have been a pen pal of President Lincoln, endures quite a number of crude racist remarks.

The horses, it should be said, maintain their dignity at all times.

The film contains extended bloody gun and knife violence, frequent crude racist banter, and pervasive rough, crude and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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