The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, is turning out to be the gritty western thriller of the season. DiCaprio stars as a fictionalized version of Hugh Glass, a man who survived getting mauled by a bear, left for dead and set off on a mission of vengeance. Deadspin is already calling it "The Manliest (And Bear-iest) Movie Ever Made." Other reviewers have implied that only dudes could get into the action, with lines like "Forget women seeing this." (Some of us living here in Montana have not read these reviews; we were too busy doing womanly things like ice-climbing and field-dressing antelope.)

The sweeping tale is based on the 2003 historical fiction novel by Michael Punke, a former University of Montana professor, a man whose life story sounds like its own epic movie.

Punke can't even do any press tours or interviews about the book or film, because he's currently a U.S. trade representative to the World Trade Organization in Switzerland. The Washington Post's Ben Terris writes:

It was a D.C. lawyer’s dream come true, a Hollywood premiere for a movie based on the novel he wrote in his spare time. But when “The Revenant,” the highly anticipated new film adapted from Michael Punke’s book, had its big opening in L.A. — an evening featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu — the author was nowhere to be seen.

He was 10,000 miles away in Nairobi, putting the finishing touches on an international trade agreement enacting a $1.3 trillion trade deal covering GPS devices, semiconductors and touch screens. Punke, 51, may be having the literary moment of a lifetime — more than a decade after his novel was released to high praise but modest sales — but as the deputy U.S. trade representative and ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Switzerland, he’s missing out on a lot of the fun.

In fact, he wasn’t even allowed to talk about “The Revenant” for this article. Federal ethics rules prohibit him from doing any side work — even a little promotional campaign — that might enrich him and potentially abuse his high-ranking office in the process.

As it happens, the Indy wrote about Punke back in 2007, when he had a slightly more low-key gig and was allowed to talk to the media about his books:

Aside from fishing on its banks, you couldn’t ask for a better view of the Clark Fork River than the one Michael Punke enjoys from his sixth-floor office at the Millennium Building in downtown Missoula. But as he was writing his new book, Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West, it was the Boone and Crockett Club perched near the southern bank of the river that constantly drew Punke’s eye.

“It was funny to me to sit and write this book from here, but I look at that place in a wholly different way now. That’s the first conservation group in America, right over there. And people drive by it all the time and don’t realize it,” says Punke.

Both Punke and the Boone and Crockett Club have followed winding paths to their current spots along the Clark Fork. Born in Torrington, Wyo., the 42-year-old Punke worked in Washington, D.C., as an international trade lawyer for 14 years after graduating from Cornell University Law School in 1989. Along the way, he met Bill Clinton several times and got to fly in Air Force One. Of his formative years, Punke says, “I knew those things were cool at the time, but I probably appreciate them more now.” 

The Revenant has opened in select theaters and is slated to open nationwide Fri., Jan. 8.

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