REVIEW: Hacksaw Ridge (2017)

hacksaw_ridge_posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 26th January 2017

Running Time: 139 minutes

Director: Mel Gibson

Genre:  War, Action, Biography, Period

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn

SYNOPSIS: Mel Gibson directs Andrew Garfield in the visceral true story of a war hero who didn’t fire a single shot. Scarred by childhood experiences with his alcoholic WWI veteran father (Hugo Weaving), devout Seventh Day Adventist Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) resolves never to touch a gun. This proves something of a challenge when he enlists in the army to fight in WWII. As a conscientious objector, Desmond insists on his right to serve as a medic. But he’s bullied by his unsympathetic comrades, who consider him to be a coward.

His greatest test comes during the notoriously bloody Battle of Okinawa. Returning to the director’s chair for the first time in a decade, Mel Gibson celebrates a very different kind of hero in this intense, blood-soaked true-life tale of faith, courage and patriotism. Andrew Garfield is on outstanding form as the pacifist whose single-handed acts of bravery saved 75 lives.

(Synopsis from Cineworld.)

 

So, this is the second of a pair of linked film reviews, the first being a review of ‘Amish Grace’. I’d suggest you read it first it you haven’t already.

So, the second review, about ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. I thought this was a superb film. An inspiring story of a pacifist staying true to his conscience and religious convictions, and an unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war, handled in such a way that the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers who do fight and kill is never denigrated. The latter on its own is quite an impressive film-making achievement.

The film could be said to take place in three acts. Act one, formative moments from childhood, leading into a satisfying and wholesome romance, as Doss courts Dorothy (who slaps him for kissing her without asking her permission first!).

Act two is a boot camp adventure cum courtroom drama, as Doss resists the army’s attempts to break him and force him to carry a weapon. It is refreshing to see a Hollywood film in which there is no apology for, or concealment of, the character’s Christian faith, and this is so all the way through the film.

Act three is a war film. A bloody, brutally honest war film, but like none I’ve ever seen, since it revolves around a hero who never fires a single shot or takes a single life. Interestingly, Mel Gibson actually left out at least two significant heroic actions on Doss’s part, feeling that the audience simply wouldn’t be able to credit it, and would assume he was making it up. (To read what these incidents were, scroll down to below the trailer, but they include SPOILERS.)

So, how come I’ve just recommended ‘Amish Grace’ for its extreme discretion in depicting violence, but am now praising ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (because ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a very graphic film, and will certainly not be for all viewers, even among the adults).

Well, I watched ‘Amish Grace’ just the weekend before ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, and as I mentioned in the review, I was bowled away by how well they managed to handle such a horrible crime without showing one shred of violence on screen. Then I watched ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and came out thinking what a superb film it was, partly because of its utter refusal to hide, glamorise, romanticise, or in any other way conceal the full horror of war. Needless to say, the contradiction struck me. Which approach is correct? Graphic violence, or nongraphic violence, that is the question…

Of course, the answer is that neither approach is ‘correct’; it depends entirely on how it is done, and why. (And indeed, what is being shown. It’s hard to conceive how anyone can benefit from watching ten little girls shot, for any reason.) Such a lot of films featuring graphic violence are simply violence-porn. There’s no reason for the gore other than to titillate and provide pleasure to the (surely perverse) viewers. Or the other category of ‘bad’ graphic films, into which Brad Pitt’s recent film ‘Fury’, a thoroughly unpleasant work in so many ways, surely falls, where the violence seems deliberately gratuitous, with absolutely no goal other than to push the boundaries and shock the viewer.

But sometimes—and perhaps especially with war films—there is a good reason for showing a lot of graphic violence: simply in order to show the pure unvarnished truth. So many war films glamorise combat, romanticise it, conceal the full horror of the battlefield. Sometimes it’s good to have a film that shines the light of truth on war, and the truth is graphic, and horrific. Throughout the film, it always feels as though this is what ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is seeking to do. The battle scenes aren’t pleasant to watch, but if they strip away people’s illusions about war, they’re serving a good purpose.

My one criticism would be that I felt some of them went on a trifle longer than was strictly necessary, but on the other hand, if you’re in a battle it probably feels like forever, so you could say there is realism in having a bit of length to them!

According to Desmond Doss Jr. (Doss’s only child): “The reason he [Doss] declined [to have his story filmed] is that none of them [those seeking to film it] adhered to his one requirement: that it be accurate. And I find it remarkable, the level of accuracy in adhering to the principal of the story in this movie.” And it does seem, as films go, to be a very accurate one, although the filmmakers have made a few small alterations in the early section, sometimes to heighten tension and drama, and other times to streamline and more simply convey background.

For example, Doss’s convictions about killing stemmed from a combination of a childhood fascination with Cain and Abel and the commandment ‘Though Shalt Not Kill’, and a violent confrontation involving his father, uncle, mother and a gun. All these influences are portrayed in the film, but in ways slightly altered from reality. However, the only significant change to the key battle scenes seems to be the leaving out some of the heroism! Which is a shame, but reading the IMDB discussion boards, Mel Gibson’s fear was clearly well justified!

Overall: A great film that satisfies on many levels. One for the shelf.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: Brief honeymoon scene, not very graphic. CONSIDERABLE graphic war violence. Sensitive viewers strongly cautioned. Considerable crude language.

Heroism Mel Gibson left out [SPOILERS]:

1) In reality, the cargo nets weren’t already fixed to the cliff when Doss’s battalion arrived. Doss was one of three volunteers who scaled the cliffs to fix the nets in place under the guns of the Japanese defenders.

2) After being wounded by the grenade at the end (17 pieces of shrapnel stuck in him) Doss treated himself, then waited for 5 hours before soldiers could get to him to evacuate him. As they headed for safety he saw a badly wounded man. He insisted they stop so he could try to patch him up, then gave up his place on the stretcher to the other man. Whilst waiting for the return of the stretcher, a sniper shot him, shattering his arm. So he fashioned himself a splint out of a discarded rifle stock and crawled 300 yards to safety, under enemy fire.

3) And lastly, not specifically heroism on Doss’s part, but fascinating all the same: a Japanese soldier had Doss in his sights, but every time he went to fire, his rifle jammed!

Information from www.historyVsHollywood.com. The article goes into greater detail about the changes made by the filmmakers.

REVIEW: Amish Grace (2010)

amish_grace_posterUK Rating: None

Release Date: 28th March 2010

Running Time: 88 minutes

Director: Gregg Champion

Genre:  Biography, Drama

Starring: Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tammy Blanchard, Matt Letscher

SYNOPSIS: A grieving Amish mother struggles to forgive the woman whose husband killed her daughter and four other schoolchildren in this movie inspired by the true-life events that unfolded in a Nickel Mines schoolhouse on October 2, 2006.

This is the first of a pair of linked reviews about ‘Amish Grace’ and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. If you happen to know of both of the films, you’ll think it an odd pairing indeed, but read on!

First, in this review, ‘Amish Grace’. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting that much from this film. I feared it would either be appallingly sentimental and/or unbearable to watch because of the central tragedy that occurs. I was very favourably surprised.

There is plenty of hugging and praying (as one can well imagine) but it doesn’t tip over into cloying sentimentalism. But I was particularly impressed by the way they handled the shooting itself, which I was dreading. It is portrayed with extraordinary discretion and sensitivity. There is no Hollywood-style blow-by-blow recreation of the events inside the school. In fact, once the killer has entered the schoolhouse, the camera never goes inside again. There is no blood. There is nothing graphic at all. Everything is shown entirely through the reactions of those outside, the 991 call, the frightened—then grief-stricken—parents. It is very well done, and extremely moving, but totally non-graphic. Considering that the only real fictional aspect of this film is the insertion of an invented family as the main characters, this can only be a good thing.

This film is a compelling look at the consequences—and difficulties—of forgiveness and of not-forgiving. My main criticism would be that the main Amish character, the bereaved mother, Ida, reacts too consistently in the way a non-Amish person would be likely to react. This is somewhat ‘explained away’ in the film by the fact that her sister has left the faith and is living in the modern world, and that she has been coming somewhat under her influence.

But it’s clear enough that Ida’s attitude really has a more practical explanation: the film makers felt it necessary for her to react in such a way in order for the (exclusively non-Amish) viewers to identify with her plight and thus be invested in her spiritual and emotional journey. So although the inaccuracy chafes slightly, it’s a justifiable inaccuracy. After all, even many Christians may find the Amish’s ability to react so instantly to the tragedy with such forgiveness awe-inspiring—and perhaps even hard to comprehend.

Overall: A surprisingly uplifting story about an outstanding real life example of grace, forgiveness, and the authentic living out of the Christian faith, suitable for all but the youngest and/or most sensitive of viewers. One for the shelf.

This has not been classified for UK release and can be bought on Amazon. In terms of on-screen violence, this could be a U. However, due to the subject matter, obviously it would really classify as a PG (or higher depending on your children’s sensitivity).

Sex/Violence/Profanity: Pretty much none of any of the three. Subject matter deals with a vicious shooting attack that caused the deaths of five girls and injured five others.

REVIEW: Silence

silence_2016_filmUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 1st January 2017

Running Time: 161 minutes

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre:  Period

Starring:  Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

(This review contains Spoilers)

Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ is a ‘Marmite movie’. You love it or you hate it. Tim Hanley, writing for the Catholic Herald, describes it as, “the most profound piece of Catholic art produced in recent years”, whilst Monica Miller in Crisis magazine considers that although, “This movie seriously examines Christian themes and ideas” it is not in fact a Christian film. I would have to agree with the latter statement. ‘Silence’ is that most dangerous of things, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

It is not the main character’s apostasy itself that is so problematic. None of us know if we would stand or fall. This beautifully filmed and acted piece could easily have been a sensitive portrayal of human weakness. But it’s not. Rodrigues isn’t shown as apostatising from simple weakness, unable to bear the emotional torment or to withstand the voice of the devil (so loud and clear through the coaxing authorities). Instead, he hears—or thinks he hears—the voice of Jesus telling him that apostasy is okay. Clearly Our Lord forgot to mention that in the Bible.

Rodrigues lives out his life spiritually dead, only, the film hints, it’s all okay really, because deep, deep down, he still believes—even though he obediently writes books ‘disproving’ the Christian faith. Even though he never again gives even the tiniest public sign of his faith. Even though he apostatises over and over again. Even though he appears to refuse absolution to someone begging on their knees. This is all okay, because he’s doing it to save the lives of the Japanese believers. Their lives, note. He—and the film—seem to have forgotten the existence of souls.

So what is the final message of ‘Silence’? That staying alive and avoiding suffering are far more important than keeping the faith. That the importance of our mortal life here far outweighs that of our eternal destiny.

This film is poison. Beautiful, well-acted, compelling… and spiritual cyanide.

Overall: I suggest you avoid. With a barge pole. Preferably a blessed one.

Sex/Violence/Nudity: No sexual content. Scenes of torture and execution, quite graphic. No graphic nudity.

RISEN: Out Now in the UK

This is not actually a review since I haven’t seen RISEN yet, but I wanted to make people in the UK aware that this new film about the Resurrection is coming out tomorrow. It looks quite promising, as far as one can judge from a trailer!

It is only showing once a day at my local cinema which means it will probably only be on for one single week–so everyone who wants to see it needs to go at once!

The US have loads of Christian films but most of them never come out here due to lack of market, so it would be great if everyone supported this one. Hopefully it would encourage future releases.

Fun fact: The cast met Pope Francis during a General Audience at the Vatican.

More information below. Do share this to your friends.

Risen

  • Release date: 18/03/2016
  • Rating: 12A
  • Running time: 107 mins

Synopsis: Peter Firth stars as Pontius Pilate in this unofficial follow-up to The Passion of the Christ.


In 33AD, Christ has already resurrected from his death on the crucifix. Now, in order to quell an imminent uprising, a member of the Roman army, Clavius, is charged by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate to locate the missing body of Jesus. It is Pilate’s job to not only locate the corpse of Christ but to arrest those disciples who snatched his body. The mission becomes a learning experience for Pilate as his discovers who Jesus really was… Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) returns to the director’s chair after an absence of ten years with this unique take on the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Spooks star Peter Firth takes on the role of Pontius Pilate, with Tom Felton (Harry Potter) as Lucius and Joseph Fiennes as Clavius.

REVIEW: The Revenant (2016)

The_Revenant_2015_film_posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 15th January 2016

Running Time: 156 minutes

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Genre: Thriller, drama, action

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

 

So this one was a big disappointment, I’m afraid. Of the most frustrating kind: the ‘could have been so good’ kind. When I first saw the trailer I thought it looked so utterly miserable I had no intention to see it, but I kept hearing good reviews and always the reviews seemed to hint that actually there was redemption at the end, rather than it being about straight up revenge, the way the trailer suggested. Well, I’m a sucker for a redemption plotline, and so is my friend, so we decided to give it a chance.

Most of the film is excellent, with a great soundtrack. It’s a gritty survival tale with great performances. Probably a little too graphic for some people’s taste, but realistic rather than gratuitous in its portrayal of wounds and violence. It is also a hugely more realistic portrayal of the ‘wild west’ than most westerns. There was a time when the Native Americans were always the villains in westerns, now for a long time, they’ve almost always been portrayed as the good guys, or at least the oppressed. Which is fair enough and an improvement on the former representation, but still rather incomplete. ‘Revenant’ tells it much more true to life. Some Native American tribes are peaceful, others are busy slaughtering every other tribe or white person they can lay their hands on. Some of the white people are peaceful, some are quite happy to kill a Native American simply for being a Native American. It all makes for grim viewing, but it’s definitely more accurate than most westerns.

The film falls apart at the end, at least for the Christian viewer who’s been promised redemption. (I can’t completely avoid spoilers, so stop reading if you definitely plan to see it, regardless of what I say.)

There is, at the end, a tiny shred of redemption. But it’s just that. A tiny, feeble shred. In practical terms, it comes too late to make any difference whatsoever to the physical outcome. It’s probably fractionally better for one character’s soul than the alternative, but just barely. It’s a huge damp squib, and makes one feel like reporting the film to the Office of Fair Trading for false advertising (that’s a joke, but you get the idea!).

If this isn’t bad enough, the very, very final moments are hugely unsatisfactory as an ending. My friend and I both felt while watching the film (despite what the trailer implied) that we were really watching a film about the strength of the human spirit, and the human will to survive. It felt more like this was driving the main character than the need for revenge. This is perhaps a failure on the film’s part, though I’d be interested to know how it came across other people. At the close of the film, however, it takes great delight in making it abundantly clear that despite what it felt like throughout, the protagonist’s struggle really was just about revenge, not about the triumph of the human spirit. And so it ends. I can’t be more specific without huge spoilers.

There is also an ambiguity raised during the final encounter between the two main characters relating to a pivotal moment earlier in the film, and the lack of clarity one is left with is an additional annoying niggle.

Overall: So close: but no cigar. It could have been a great film, but the ending ruins it, ironically, beyond all redemption.

 

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: A sexual assault followed by an implied castration. Brief nudity. Frequent strong violence. Violence realistic rather than gratuitous, but graphic at times. Some disturbing images. Frequent rough, crude and profane language.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?