Hacksaw Ridge (Spoiler-Free Review)

Movie Review

Verdict: 8/10

Synopsis

Directed by Mel Gibson, HACKSAW RIDGE is the extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong.

The Review

It’s always welcoming when Hollywood produce true stories of real life heroes you most likely would never have heard of in your life (most certainly not in UK schools). The film becomes more than just a two-hour watch. It becomes a great history class you wished you attended when you were growing up. Hacksaw Ridge does that for most of it’s running time, with a second half having some of the most visceral battle sequences caught in film, with the veteran direction (and resurrection) of Mel Gibson, led by a poignant central performance by Oscar Nominated Andrew Garfield.

It’s very hard to make this a spoiler-free review given it’s based on a true story (the synopsis alone from the film distributors sums up the second half of the film). It truly is remarkable to think that there was ever a man like Desmond Doss. The film is a tale of two halves. We begin with a young Desmond who after doing a very terrible act as a child, vows to follow the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” till the end of his days. Years later, nearing the end of WWII, he sees other men around his town going off to war and sees that its his right to go fight as well. The only issue is that he’s a conscientious objector and has vowed that he will never carry a gun. This doesn’t fall well with his new sergeant in command and brothers-in-arms, seeing him as a threat to let them down at the heat of the battle.

Many more things happen within this half, with Desmond falling in love with nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), and the battle he has to go through to be allowed to travel with the soldiers to Japan. It’s a great set up for a polar opposite second half, but the issue I have with the first half of the film is how terribly clichéd it is at times. Some of the dialogue feels straight out of daytime soap operas. It’s really cheesy at some points with some scenes being downright cringe, making some moving moments for me to be not as powerful as Gibson intended them to be. Yes you can argue that the first half was intended to be played out like that to balance out the brutal second half, but for me it was one-too-many whiffs of cheese.

So…the second half. Wow. The moment the soldiers walk on to Hacksaw Ridge till the ending of the film grabs you by the throat and never lets you go. It’s the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan turned up to 11. Blood and guts everywhere. Bombs exploding off. Screams echoing around the battlefield. It’s visceral and relentless and definitely not for the faint hearted. It’s what Gibson does best. Memories of Braveheart with the brutality of Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ is littered throughout. It perfectly captures Desmond’s beliefs and why Hacksaw Ridge is actually an anti-war film. Garfield provides his most human performance as Doss, giving you a hero that will live on in your memory after you leave the cinema. By the end of the film, Doss becomes a shell of himself and you can’t help but tear up knowing what he’s just gone through and done for his brothers. And the supporting cast is wonderful, especially Vince Vaughn as the no-nonsense drill sergeant and Hugo Weaving as Desmond’s estranged father.

Final Word

Putting aside the near cheesy first half which does well to build up why we should support the beliefs of Desmond Doss, this is a decade-long welcome return for Mel Gibson behind the camera. He gives us a visceral and brutal war film for the ages led by Andrew Garfield’s best performance in front of the camera.

Lion (Spoiler-Free Review)

Movie Review

Verdict: 8/10

Synopsis

Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of Kilometers across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.

The Review

Based on an incredible true story, Six-time Oscar nominated film “Lion” is a story of two-halves: one half providing the audience the anguish, distress, and loss of losing your loved ones as a child, and the other providing the journey of vanquishing those emotions as an adult to find the ones you’ve lost through the powers of modern technology. At times incredible…harrowing…heartbreaking, but let down by a slow second hour after a masterful first.

Shot beautifully by cinematographer (and now Oscar-nominated) Greig Fraser, the film begins with the five-year old Saroo (played by newcomer Sunny Pawar) and his big brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) climbing onto a coal-bearing train and stealing the coal so they can sell it at the local market to buy food. They are very poor, living in a mud-hut with their little sister and their mother (Priyanka Bose), who goes to work all day to break rocks at a construction site. One evening, Guddu tells Saroo that he’s been given some work to do and will be out of the home all night. Saroo wants to help so tags along with his brother. They reach the nearby train station, where Saroo becomes too tired to go on with his brother. Guddu tells Saroo to stay put on the station bench whilst he heads off to work. Its the middle of the night now and with Saroo becoming a bit anxious, he sees a dormant train nearby to search for his brother. He can’t find him but seeing that the train is not moving, he stays put in the train and falls asleep whilst waiting for Guddu’s return. And so begins a heart-breaking turn of events: the train rushing thousands of kilometres away from his village to a city where the spoken language is not Hindu, surviving alone in a city where everything around him towers above his size, and avoiding dangers that so many lost children face in India every year. With a fortunate turn of events he gets adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman & David Wenham) and the film switches to a 26-year old Saroo (played by Dev Patel) who during one friend’s house party starts having flashes of his past, and with the suggestion of his friends, uses Google Earth to retrace his steps from the flashes he is getting to find his way back home, in turn isolating everyone who cares about him (including his girlfriend Lucy, played by Rooney Mara).

It’s extraordinary to think that this is a true story and the things that real life Saroo had to face to find his Indian family. At times, “Lion” is a tear-jerker with the standard “pulling the heart strings when it needs to” moments that you would expect from a story like this. But my main issue with the film is the way each half of the film (Saroo’s younger self and his older self) is played out which imbalances the film as whole. When you are following the tale of Saroo as a five-year old (which is half of the film’s running time), it is one of the most harrowing, terrifying, and heartbreaking hour of film I have watched in the last year. This little boy all alone in a city where everything is alien to him, and where dangers lie everywhere whilst somehow trying to find his way back home is pulse racing stuff. It was like watching a Dickensian tale play out. That whole hour is anchored by THE MOST incredible child actor in the form of Sunny Pawar. It’s insane to think that this is his first film and I don’t understand how he has not been nominated for his performance at the Oscars. The film belongs to him.

The second half with the older Saroo in the shape of Dev Patel, who puts in a career-best Oscar-nominated performance, becomes so much more slower it became distracting to me. Not to say that it’s a bad half as it is interesting to see his dynamic with his adopted parents (most notably with an in-form Nicole Kidman), how he uses Google Earth to find his way back home, and the troubles his character is feeling when wondering what his Indian family must’ve been feeling when they lost him. But there is so much of looking on the internet and the clicking of the mouse that the film can drag out and the viewer can take. There are moments in this half which the older Saroo does that just annoyed me, particularly his relationship with his girlfriend (the talented Rooney Mara wasted here). Because of this, the crescendo ending didn’t have a tearful impact for me as I hoped it would.

Final Word

 An incredible true story told in two halves: A masterful and harrowing first half anchored by a powerful performance by 7-year old newcomer Sunny Pawar, let down by a slower second half, even if we get a career-best performance by Dev Patel. If you’re going to watch it with your children, you’ll end up never letting them go after watching this.

“La La Land” receives 14 Oscar Nominations & #OscarsSoWhite is NO MORE!

News

Modern musical “La La Land” landed 14 Oscar Nominations today, tying with “Titanic” in 1997 and “All About Eve” in 1950, with the most Oscar nominations received by any film in the history of the competition.

It’s director Damien Chazelle received two nominations (one for Best Director and one Original Screenplay), with the stars of the film Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling receiving a nod in the Best Actress and Best Actor categories, respectively. It was also nominated twice in the Best Original Song category (“Audition” and “City of Stars”), Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.

“Arrival” and “Moonlight” each received eight nominations, both included in the Best Picture category, with “Fences”, “Hacksaw Ridge”, “Hell or High Water”, “Hidden Figures”, “Manchester by the Sea”, and “Lion” making up that list.

In the acting categories, Casey Affleck, Andrew Garfield, Viggo Mortensen, and Denzal Washington were nominated with Gosling in the Best Actor category, and joining Stone is Isabelle Huppert, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep (a record 20 nominations now), and surprise nomination Ruth Negga make up the Best Actress category.

Mel Gibson is nominated again 20 years after Braveheart for Best Director, with Barry Jenkins, Kenneth Lonergan, and Denis Villeneue making up the category with Chazelle.

With the big news for the past two years being the no-show of non-white presence in the Oscars Acting categories (and others), #OscarsSoWhite is no more with seven non-white actors and actresses being nominated over the four main acting categories. Good to see the shakeup that was promised last year by the Oscars president really working!

The nominations were announced early this afternoon in a completely unconventional way from what we are used to, with a pre-recorded video of past winners and nominees telling their stories what it felt like learning that they had been nominated. A bit weird and very infomercial like…let’s see if it carries over the coming years.

For the full list of nominees click on the link here. I will be writing many more articles following the run up to the big event which will be on February 26th so look out for those!