Sunday 3 July 2016

The Revenant - quick review: film vs book...

What's it about?
Based on the real-life story of Hugh Glass, a tracker for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1820s America, who was savagely attacked by a bear and left for dead by his fellow men. But when he survives, he vows to navigate the hostile landscape and get his revenge.
Who would I recognise in it?
Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter.
Scooping up three Oscars - Cinematography, Director, and Actor (a long-in-the-wait golden baldie statue for Leo) - The Revenant was nonetheless pipped at the podium by Spotlight for Best Film. Much has been said about the glorious photography - meticulously shot during 'the magic hour' to make the most of that beautiful natural light that descends for an hour each day - and the struggle of the production (harsh temperatures, chowing down on raw Bison liver, and so on, all drawn out over months of production), but it's interesting to note - as mentioned in the credits - that the film is only 'based in part' on Michael Punke's book...

Click "READ MORE" below to see how the film differs from the book **SPOILERS AHEAD**...

One of the major differences is seen early on - in the film Hugh Glass has a son. Not so in the book, but he did spend time with the Native American Pawnee. Of course, this change does gift the film a greater sense of vengeance when Fitzgerald (Hardy), a ruthless trapper eager to ditch a dying Glass but still earn his money for staying behind, kills Glass' son and tricks a young Jim Bridger (Poulter) into leaving a terribly wounded - but still breathing - Glass behind. In the book, however, the need for vengeance is far less clear cut. In fact, in many ways, Fitzgerald's position is reasonably argued in the book, and the reason for revenge is relatively weak (it certainly would have been, cinematically speaking). Further to this, in the book Glass doesn't really get his revenge - he gets a little, but ultimately finds a spiritual peace that sates his bloodlust. In the film, as audiences would want after more than two hours crawling through a frozen landscape full of dangers, it climaxes in a brutal fight between Glass and Fitzgerald - although Glass does offer up the final blow to the Gods of fate.

Indeed, the film makes numerous nips and tucks to the story. For one, it takes place over a much more condensed timeframe, combines certain elements (e.g. surviving the snow storm, and gaining help from a friendly Native American), and completely changes other aspects. On the latter, for instance, the entire segment of story involving the French trappers (a significant segment, at that) is removed in favour of a new subplot involving a Native's hunt for his daughter, kidnapped by Toussaint, which dovetails with Glass' silver screen story. Indeed, the river attack from the book (while Glass is in the employ of the French trappers), is repurposed for an opening scene which is spectacular to behold.

Naturally there are some elements of the book - certain historical digressions on character back stories, for example - that never would have made the translation, but comparing the film to the book is an interesting thing. There are many differences, some of them quite stark, but the overall spirit remains intact (Glass/Fitzgerald battle royale aside). Glass' encounter with the bear is ferocious, but is even more graphic in the book (Glass' near-scalping is modified and transferred to Fitzgerald in the film), and yet the cinematic telling drastically reduces the timeframe and ups the tension as a result.

If you want a telling that is far closer to the historical reality, albeit with some fictionalised characters and informed guess work, then the book is definitely worth a read. If you want a more focused and visceral tale of bloodthirsty vengeance, then the film is for you - but both are very much worth your time. Arguably, at two-and-a-half hours, the film version of The Revenant is a touch too long, and the stripped-back script occasionally risks being too pared-down, but it makes for a memorable and thrilling journey. Good.

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