BOOK VERSUS FILM: The Revenant – Dead Truth

Adaptation

So, this time I thought I’d take a look at the revisionist history novel, The Revenant and its subsequent adaptation, which earned Leonardo DiCaprio the Oscar that’s eluded him for decades. At last!!

What did you think of this one – were you a lover or a hater? Add your comments at the end of the post. Enjoy …

The Book

I’ve been obsessed with The Frontier and The Wild West since I saw Dances With Wolves when I was still a little girl, so Hugh Glass has been a source of fascination for me for years. I was absolutely agog that a man could survive such an horrific bear attack AND basically crawl across across America in search of his beloved rifle. It really puts a fresh spin on both the revenge myth and the whole ‘American Dream’ thing, especially the notion ‘you want something badly enough, you will DO IT, by hook or by crook’. 

I’m a big fan of The Man Who Returned From The Dead by John Myers Myers, which is probably the definitive biography on Glass. Whilst Punke doesn’t *quite* get across the same sense of indignation regarding the Andstadt that Myers does in his biography, there is enough here to keep me happy: there are some brilliant set pieces (not least the last in the water, with Glass sailing head-first into a confrontation with the Arikara). There’s fab visuals galore and Glass’ lucky escapes are well drawn.

I was also impressed with the representations of the Native Americans, whose actions are both understandable and relatable, especially when the children kill Pig, the gigantic and foul-smelling Frontiersman (who must have been terrifying to their young eyes). Punke draws on Glass’ well-documented history with Native Americans well too, so we can understand how he is able to relate to, and respect, the old woman at Fort Brazeau and build her a funeral pyre. This in turn means the Sioux warriors help him.

Like many reviewers and book bloggers, I do feel the ending goes out with a whimper and there are a few biographical notes that stick out, especially towards the beginning. I would also have liked a little more from Henry and Ashley, especially given the historical note at the end was so interesting. Otherwise, I loved this book and recommend it most highly to those who love historical novels and The Wild West.

The Film

‘Based on a true story’ is major currency in Hollywood, as are novel adaptations, so it’s not difficult to see why The Revenant got adapted.

Or did it? The novel says it’s ‘the book that inspired the movie’, plus the film says it’s ‘based in part’ on Michael Punke’s novel! Whilst there are some obvious signposts to the book and the original story behind it, this has to be one of the LOOSEST possible adaptations I’ve seen in a good while.

First, the good stuff. It obviously LOOKS amazing. The Arikara attack at the beginning, starting with an arrow through a Frontiersman’s throat out of the blue, is frightening and refreshingly realistic. There’s a real sense of bedlam and menace as Braves storm the camp. The yells and hoots of their brothers in arms encircling the camp, forcing the frontiersman into the water is fantastic and not ‘movie-like’ at all – you get a real sense of how terrifying it must have been.

Leonardo DiCaprio is on fine form, but then he has to be one of the most consistent actors of his generation. Tom Hardy is clearly in his element (as he always is playing antagonists), but for me the two stand-out performances have to be Will Poulter as Bridger and Domhnall Gleeson as Captain James Henry. Both characters are so clearly desperate and out of their depth; the actors’ performances portray this brilliantly.

The pace of the movie is great, but I was disappointed to see just how far the film strays from the original novel. There were so many great moments in the novel that were left out, with their replacements very ‘Hollywoodised’. Glass’ Pawnee son Hawk was an obvious choice – what movie-watcher could relate to the idea of a frontiersman being THAT attached to a rifle? – but his unfortunate demise was cheesy. I also didn’t understand why Fitzgerald didn’t kill Glass straight after, especially when it appears Bridger didn’t come back straight away. Perhaps it was a bad edit. What’s more, Captain Henry DIES! (He didn’t in history, nor did he help Glass recapture Fitzgerald!).

However, I could have coped with all that if we hadn’t been subjected to the excruciating Powaqa story thread. I could understand the filmmakers needed to make the Native Americans ‘relatable’, but Glass’ saving Powaqa from the rapist in the soldier camp made little plotting sense other than to paint him as a hero. Ack. The sad thing was, there were LOADS of human moments in The Revenant novel that could have painted Native Americans in a human light (as in, ‘not the usual bad guys’ in Westerns), not least the the woman at Fort Brazeau and the Sioux who treat Glass’ wounds. Oh well!

Verdict

For me, the film is not a patch on the book (which in turn is not a patch on The Man Who Returned From The Dead). That said, if you are looking for truth, you’re probably not going to be watching a Hollywood movie! If you take it as it is – an exciting, lone wolf story that really puts DiCaprio through his paces – then you won’t be disapointed … Just maybe read the book SECOND.

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