Early on in director and co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu’s small-scale epic, frontiersman Hugh Glass (played with almost frightening commitment by Leonardo DiCaprio) learns the hard way that if you get too near a mother bear’s cubs, she will have at you. And even if — through some astonishing combination of luck, pluck, superior firepower, and emergency medicine — you manage to survive the attack, you will be scarred by the experience. This is, quite literally, nature red in tooth and claw. (Nature in the rest of the film is mostly white in ice and snow, perhaps less deadly but just as hostile, and rendered with impassive majesty by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.) It isn’t long before Glass finds himself in the role of the bear, fiercely stalking the skulking sonofabitch Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who got too near to his own boy — even as he struggles to survive. The journey is long and painstaking, the better to give you a sense of just what is being opposed to what. As Glass heals, he progresses from a moaning, crawling beast to a cunning horseman: man rising to mastery over nature by wits and will. But eventually, a man comes up against his humanity: his power to choose, to plunge into the savage world of urge and instinct, or to step outside and dwell — however briefly, however painfully — in some more rarefied realm. (2015) — Matthew Lickona
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