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 The article goes into greater detail about the changes made by the filmmakers.


REVIEW: Lore (2012)

Lore poster by Source. Licensed under Fair use via WikipediaUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 12th October 2012

Running Time: 109 minutes

Director: Cate Shortland

Genre:  Drama, romance, thriller, war film

Starring: Saskia Rosendahl, Kai-Peter MalinaNele Trebs

Made in German, but by an Australian director, Lore is a very good film, but not a very enjoyable one. Yes, it’s one of those. The titular protagonist, Hannelore (Lore), who could be a poster girl for the League of German Maidens (female equivalent of the Hitler Youth), is left holding the baby (literally) when her Nazi parents abandon them. Not just the baby, but her younger sister and even younger twin brothers. Her mother tells her to take them to her Grandmother’s in Hamburg, a distance of five hundred miles, before walking away down the road to surrender to the Americans. When they can no longer stay where they are and are forced to attempt the journey, they discover that no trains are running. They must go on foot, trading their few belongings for food – or for breastfeeding, since, making their plight even worse, the baby is not yet weaned.

Help and protection comes from an unlikely source – a young Jewish refugee, Thomas. The children’s desperation is made clear by the fact that they stick with him – for the obvious reason to do with life-long indoctrination, and for another that I cannot mention without spoilers. Lore is also struggling, in the midst of this, with her awakening sexuality, leading to an even more complicated relationship with Thomas.

This is a grim film. It paints a very believable picture of the grief, confusion, and above all, denial, that many Germans felt at Hitler’s death and Germany’s occupation. In one scene, Germans are saying to one another that the photos of the dead in the concentration camps posted by the Americans on the walls of every town are fake, that the people are actors, it’s all staged. Lore is, in a way, lucky, because, for reasons I won’t disclose, she knows for certain that this is not the case. As, one suspects, do those speaking, deep down.

The only refugee to give any help to the children, at least for free, is a woman wearing a cross around her neck, a tiny flash of humanity in an otherwise unflinching portrayal of how fear makes people look out for number one. The ending is satisfying from a Christian perspective, in that a main character appears to be coming to terms with the fact that their whole life is built on lies, and to be rejecting those lies. The film is also a powerful reminder that the enemy are people too, who can suffer, and hope, and be afraid, however misguided they are.

It is not a perfect film. It’s one of those films where the characters don’t speak much. This creates an eerie, mysterious atmosphere, but is basically taken to an unrealistic degree, and results in the viewer not feeling they really know the characters. This, in turn, blunts the emotional impact of many of the events. There are also a couple of irritating inclarities or inconsistencies, such as a pivotal scene when one character seems to need papers, but others somehow get by without.

Overall: Definitely one to watch, so long as you’re not expecting a war film with lots of bangs and explosions and running around. This is a war film all right, but its power is in its unremitting portrayal of the reality of war (or its aftermath), not in action scenes. The auditorium was full when I saw this (at a local film society) and the audience was completely silent throughout. People hardly twitched or coughed. Engrossing, albeit uncomfortable, viewing. However – not one for sensitive viewers (see below).

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc.: A scene of lower body female nudity from the front, upper body female nudity from behind, a bare breast (during breastfeeding), several scenes of a man fondling a woman (one during rape), a scene of masturbation/fondling (the borders between the two are blurred). Two women are shown with blood-streaked thighs after (implied) rape, one of the women is dead. Another women is shown being raped, not so graphically. There are several scenes of the macabre (ants crawling on bloody skin) or of graphic wounds. A scene of a man who has committed suicide. Two murders (one by gunshot, one through bludgeoning with a rock). Photographs of concentration camp victims. Scenes of theft, sometimes with violence. The film is in German and subtitled – I do not recall any swear words in the translation, it’s possible there were some. It’s a rather engrossing film and hard to remember! Apologies if I’ve forgotten anything, but this should give you a pretty good idea the sort of thing to expect.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?

REVIEW: Suite Francais (2015)

Suite_Francaise_posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 13th March 2015

Running Time: 107 minutes

Director: Saul Dibb

Genre: Drama

Starring: Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Riley, Margot Robbie, Ruth Wilson, Alexandra Maria Lara

This is not a film I would usually go and see, since, in a nutshell, it’s about a married Frenchwoman falling in love with a married German officer after the occupation of France during the Second World War: in other words, it’s one of those films that glamorise adultery. As a rule I avoid films like this since I don’t particularly wish to watch or support them. However, relationships between people who should be enemies always catch my attention – as a Christian the message that the enemy is just a person too is one I like to see put across. But I would probably still have decided against seeing ‘Suite Francais’ if one final fact hadn’t irresistibly piqued my curiosity.

It’s based on a novel. But it’s not a novel written in more recent years, like Anne Widdecombe’s compelling but morally dubious ‘An Act of Treachery’. It’s a novel written during the Second World War by Irène Némirovsky, a French author of Jewish descent. Two novels, in fact, the second unfinished, out of a planned series of five. But they were never completed because sadly Irène died in Auschwitz. The manuscripts lay unread in a suitcase in her daughters’ keeping, presumed to be a journal too harrowing to be read, until 1998. They were published as one novel in 2004 and perhaps not surprisingly with that history, became a bestseller.

And now a film. When I read about the history of the novel, I was astonished that anyone dared to write a novel about such a subject at the time of the occupation. But it makes sense if you see the film – can’t say more without spoilers. Also, the novel apparently followed many different characters, whereas the scriptwriters concentrated on a smaller group, thus making the treasonable relationship more prominent.

I thought the film was good but definitely not a masterpiece. It kept my tense attention throughout but fell rather flat at the end. The main character, Lucille, says little in the first part of the film, giving one scant idea of the deeper aspects of her character beyond her love of music and her sympathy with her poorer tenants, but creating a very poignant sense of a person trapped in a life they hate.

The more practical theologian in me couldn’t help wondering what a marriage tribunal would make of her marriage – she had only met her husband-to-be twice before the wedding and was put under considerable pressure by her father and by circumstances (her father’s approaching death) to agree to the wedding. On the other hand, she was not dragged to the altar and says that she, ‘convinced herself she was in love with him’. But that’s one for a marriage tribunal.

Very few references are made to the wife of the German officer, Bruno. The first reference led me to believe she was dead, he says that, ‘she doesn’t miss me any more, not now,’ the second made it clear she was alive, from which one had to deduce she was perhaps having an affair herself, and at any rate, did not love him. This carries the clear connotation so common nowadays, that it is therefore fine for Bruno to have an affair too. Sigh.

The film really excels in recreating a French village of the period, with all the tensions between the wealthier and poorer inhabitants, the tenants and the landlords, and it was from these relationships that the most unexpected twist in the film comes. Satisfyingly, from a Christian perspective, it is a twist that takes a character presented as a weak, near ‘baddie’ and makes them the focus of the audience’s sympathy. It is also a keenly painful lesson in the unintended consequences of telling lies.

Overall, I would hesitate to recommend this film too highly due to the benevolent view it takes of adultery. As a film, it is good, but the ending, though happier than one might have expected for some of the characters, is very underwhelming, with an irritating ambiguity as to the fate of a main character.

Sex/Violence/Profanity? There is a (visually) fairly discreet adulterous sexual scene, a more graphic pre-marital sexual scene viewed from a distance and some naked men viewed from a distance. There is some relatively unbloody violence including a war scene and an execution. I don’t recall much in the way of swearing. Apologies if I’ve forgotten anything. UK rating is 15.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?