Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action to pull the audience in from a variety of angles. The result is powerfully visceral, catching us by surprise as it scares, moves and inspires us. As a director, Mel Gibson is great at telling vivid stories that evoke intense feelings. And Andrew Garfield delivers another remarkably internalised performance that resonates strongly.
As World War II rages, Desmond (Garfield) longs to leave his rural Virginia home to help with the fighting against Germany and Japan. But as an Adventist, he refuses to touch a weapon or fight on Sunday. He enlists anyway, and is mercilessly bullied for his pacifistic beliefs all the way through boot camp. His commanding officers (Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington) are especially hard on him, trying to force him to drop out. But his haggard WWI-veteran father (Hugo Weaving) makes a pointed plea for him to remain in the military. Eventually, his platoon is sent to fight on Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, where Desmond proves his bravery in ways no one expects.
This is one of those stories that we wouldn't believe if it weren't true (the film concludes with a documentary epilogue featuring interviews with the actual people). Gibson and his screenwriters continually ground scenes in tiny details that emphasise the realism, giving the actors plenty of gristle. The opening sequence on the farm is relentlessly corny Americana, with Garfield portraying a dorky bumpkin who falls for a sweet girl (Teresa Palmer) and heads naively off to war. But Garfield deepens the character with every scene, giving weight and meaning to the jaw-dropping climactic battlefield sequence. Among the supporting cast, Vaughn, Worthington and Weaving all get strong moments of their own, as do a few of Desmond's comrades. Although while Palmer and Griffiths (as Desmond's mother) are solid, there isn't much for them to do.
Continue reading: Hacksaw Ridge Review
Malick ended the silence which followed his fantastic 1970s one-two punch of Badlands and Days of Heaven - airy, wind-swept paeans to wide-open skies and the loneliness that lies like a bruise on the land beneath them - with 1998's star-stuffed adaptation of James Jones' battle epic The Thin Red Line. It would have been the World War II movie to end the century with, but for a little something called Saving Private Ryan, out that same year. Up against Ryan's self-consciously stomach-churning gore and herky-jerky camerawork, not to mention its resolutely action, action, ACTION! pacing, Malick's moony meditation on the thin line (if any) between civilization and savagery couldn't help but come off as impossibly arch. Never mind that Malick's battle scenes were even more vicious and realistic than Spielberg's, given their eschewing of comforting action film tropes in favor of pure hot chaos. A strike (well, several strikes) against Malick was his habit of telling the story via overlapping voiceovers, as each of the characters thinks Big Important Thoughts about life and war and love. By jettisoning Jones' pungent prose, all the characters ended up sounding exactly the same, like Malick just thinking aloud in the sort of white-noise pseudo-philosophical jumble that Godard litters his films with.
Continue reading: The New World Review
And Dark Water (a remake of Hideo Nakata's 2002 film Honogurai mizu no soko kara) is nothing if not moody. It begins in the gloom of a divorce, with just-separated Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) and Kyle (Dougray Scott) fighting over who is going to live where - shared custody of their young girl Ceci (Ariel Gade) making commuting a big issue. Righteously furious Dahlia needs a cheap place near a good school and so ends up looking at a place on Roosevelt Island, the apartment-block-choked strip of land in the East River that makes most Manhattanites shudder and think, "There but for the grace of my broker, go I..." She and Ceci tour a grim apartment there with a chatty manager (a spot-on John C. Reilly) who tries to talk up the depressing view of rain-shrouded towers and smokestacks and the building's neo-Fascist architecture; only Reilly could say "Brutalist" with such perfectly smarmy cheer.
Continue reading: Dark Water (2005) Review
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