Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 2015. Regency Enterprises, RatPac Entertainment, New Regency Pictures, Anonymous Content, M Productions, Appian Way, Alpha Pictures, CatchPlay, Monarchy Enterprises S.a.r.l.. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, based in part on the novel by Michael Punke. Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Produced by Steve Golin, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, David Kanter, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon, James W. Skotchdopole. Music by Carsten Nicolai, Ryûichi Sakamoto. Production Design by Jack Fisk. Costume Design by Jacqueline West. Film Editing by Stephen Mirrione. Academy Awards 2015. Golden Globe Awards 2015. Washington Film Critics Award 2015.
We are immediately sunk into mind-spinning conflict at the beginning of this epic masterpiece, as a group of fur trappers have their camp raided by Arikara men and lose the pelts that were to be their big, early nineteenth century payday. The survivors make their way to the nearest outpost under the command of captain Domhnall Gleeson, their voyage suffering a major setback when frontier explorer Leonardo DiCaprio is attacked by a bear (in an astonishing sequence that must be seen to be believed) and only barely survives his injuries. Needing to move on but not wanting to abandon an injured man, Gleeson leaves Dicaprio in the care of shady Tom Hardy, young Will Poulter and DiCaprio’s own half-native son Forrest Goodluck to oversee his burial when the inevitable occurs. Even in a wilderness that is impossible for human survival, however, the most unlikely things can happen, and you are spellbound for three hours as the film’s star, who has never been more sympathetic, beats the odds at every turn to find his way back to base and settle a very sad score. Breathtaking vistas of a now vanished frontier dazzle the eye while graphic depictions of injuries and conflicts bring to life the ugly realities of taming the wild lands of North America; no doubt the details are fudged for entertainment value and a historian or scientist will point out how unlikely most of it is, but there’s no denying how director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu envelopes you effectively in his atmosphere. It’s a film that exploits the eternal tension of America’s binary personality, the cold-hearted capitalist against the humane explorer, and does so without being didactic, merely glorying in the magnificence of its surprises. DiCaprio is a worthy lead for this giant film, his emotionally charged interactions with his son at the onset connecting us to his survival and allowing a deep investment in his saga. The most streamlined and accomplished work by Inarritu yet to come.