Well, I was going to do another one of my lengthy, indulgent, personal anecdotes about my time at the festival so far to kick off today’s piece, since I’m under embargo for one of the films I saw today until its premiere finishes tomorrow night. However, I did not get back into my lodge until 9:30pm and, despite having been able to get the free time required to write up my thoughts on the first of the films in today’s coverage beforehand, I have only just finished writing the content people actually care about at 11:10pm. I need to be awake at 7:00am if I am to make it into Central London for one of the two The Killing of a Sacred Deer screenings that are on at 9:00am tomorrow morning (the second is for the inevitable overfill that will come from the first one), and I don’t fancy being shut out of that. So, a lengthy intro about trying to overcome my anxiety by talking to strangers at the Festival will have to be booted to another day. Sorry. In my defence, the film I stayed out for tonight was outstanding, but we’ll get to that later on.
“I’ve never been more wrong about someone in my life.”
Well here’s a thing we never thought we’d see, huh? Mel Gibson back in the director’s chair for a big budget film. More impressive, by the time the film had been released in the UK, the film has been nominated for a slew of awards, including that of Best Film and Best Director. Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day.
Hacksaw Ridge is the unbelievably true story of Private Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the son of a veteran and a man compelled to enlist in the army in 1942 once the Japanese became a part of World War II. Signing his life away to the military and wanting to serve as a medic, Doss actively defied orders in the name of his religious and moral beliefs by refusing to pick up a rifle. Refusing to be beaten out of his unit, the young Private passes basic training with his squad mates. His refusal to carry a rifle because of his pacifist beliefs lands him in a court martial that could end his career in the military before it has even begun. With a little help from a higher-up, and an impassioned plea from his father, Doss earns the right to head into battle armed with nothing but prayer.
Despatched to Japan, Doss and the 77th Infantry division are sent to Hacksaw Ridge; a key strategic point that the Americans need to take in order to further their campaign to Okinawa. Starting with a 400 foot climb heading directly into the battlefield, the American forces are at a severe disadvantage against an entrenched Japanese army. As the battle becomes unwinnable and the Americans retreat in a hail of artillery fire, Doss finds himself stuck at the top of the ridge, refusing to leave a single casualty behind.
In the hours that follow, Private First Class Desmond Doss shows a level of bravery most people could only imagine when he singlehandedly rescues 75 stranded soldiers from the field with very little care for his own safety.
War films as a genre have been done to death. There’s no denying their impact in today’s climate, but they always run the risk of being preachy more than entertaining; and that’s not why we go to the cinema.
We all know that being a pacifist idealist would make you a better person than most, but in this world it’s hardly ever possible. I was expecting to come out of Hacksaw Ridge thoroughly annoyed that I had been preached at for two and a half hours for not being a better person. Instead, I came out just a little bit sad that I am most certainly not as good a person as Doss.
Mel Gibson has taken this over-used genre and made it something worth talking about again. Clearly he was inspired by a few other greats of the past – namely half-inching Kubrick’s hilarious and genius opening forty minutes of Full Metal Jacket, letting Vince Vaughn be his own Gunnery Sergeant Hartman for a bit, with outstanding results – but he’s also taken as much inspiration from the history books as he has from films like Hamburger Hill and unashamedly made them into something worthy of its award nods.
Gibson proves his worth behind the camera by crafting a slow paced opening hour that tells you everything you think you need to know about Doss and his reasons for his conscientious objection to combat. He tells the story of his father’s time in the Great War, with Hugo Weaving on superb form as the forgotten veteran. We see Desmond hastily fall in love with a nurse (Theresa Palmer) at the same time as he’s inspired to become a medic; a not totally coincidental crossing over of these passions.
None of this build up seems slow or drawn out; it all feels necessary as we head into the young Private’s basic training where his objections are ignored and ridiculed. You don’t necessarily feel for his predicament either, which speaks to the lack of being preached at in this film. You do have moments where you feel “oh for Christ’s sake, kid. Don’t be there if you don’t want to fight in a war”, and the greatness of Gibson’s filmmaking (and Garfield’s acting) is that we are allowed to be convinced he’s doing the right thing at the same time his Commanding Officers are. We’re not preached at, we’re taught that the Private’s purpose may not be to kill, but to help those who are signing up to do just that.
Once we get to the war and the terrifying fight ahead of Doss’s platoon, we see the full effect of the now veteran director’s skill as every shot fired, every grenade thrown and every body that falls to the floor is a chilling and visceral reminder of the horror facing these men taking on an enemy with perhaps more fortitude and conviction than any American forces have ever faced. Shown in frightening detail in a scene destined for that “One Perfect Shot” twitter account we all follow, we see what seems to be an endless stream of Japanese soldiers running from bunkers and underground caves like a river running down a mountainside. In a film with near perfect direction throughout, this scene stood out to me as one of the scariest moments I’ve seen in a war film in quite some time.
What I found equally as impressive was Andrew Garfield’s performance. Outside of Silence I haven’t cared for him much and after Hacksaw Ridge I might just start calling myself a fan. His portrayal of this soldier that’s the very definition of a hero is nothing short of brilliant. I thought his hillbilly accent would annoy me for two and a half hours; instead it made him a little endearing. After the first twenty minutes or so, I didn’t even realise it was still there – concentrating more on what he was doing than how he sounded while he did it. The young actor amazingly had me believing his convictions on screen and rooting for him as the world was against him. As he fought and struggled to rescue his comrades, I was scared for him and praying along with him. A sublime performance from a guy a have only recently lambasted for being a shit Spider-Man.
Clearly the star of this film, I would consider Garfield the lead here the same way Charlie Sheen is the lead in Platoon. Of course he’s the guy in top billing and the guy whose story is being told; but he has such a fantastic group of actors behind him that to cheer and marvel over each of them would be another two thousand words. Much like you would when reviewing Oliver Stone’s Vietnam epic, you have to pick a few key performances from the line-up. In this case though, the people you’re almost forced to focus on are more deserving because of who they are and their generally poor standing in the eyes of a lot of people who would be going to see his film.
I’m speaking, of course, of Vince Vaughn’s Sergeant Howell and Sam Worthington’s Captain Glover. Both guys aren’t particularly well known for their acting chops nowadays (although I’d argue that they are usually decent) but they seemed to make special effort to put across a good performance. I certainly give credit to them both for being more than just watchable – they were great. Vaughn’s channelling of R. Lee Ermey might seem derivative and cheap when he first breaks into it, but by the end of his first stint of yelling at the young recruits, he’s brought his own flavour of abuse to the scene and made it his own. Worthington’s performance is a little more run-of-the-mill as the captain going up against Doss, but once he’s in the heat of battle with the medic at his side, he’s as good as any on-screen soldier you’ve seen before.
All of this rolls into a two-and-a-bit hour-long film that doesn’t feel half as long as that once you reach the end. Hacksaw Ridge has hit the top of my favourites list so far this year when it comes to Oscarbait movies. A war drama that isn’t just a gruesome story about how horrific that (or any) war is. It’s a film that might actually restore a little faith in humanity; and considering I went into this flick expecting to be preached at, I can honestly say we need a film like Hacksaw Ridge in our cinemas more than we probably realised before it came out.
Finally, if you don’t know the subject very well, I believe that a film that’s “based on a true story” like this one should make you want to go out and read about the thing you just spent over two hours watching. Hacksaw Ridge definitely made me want to learn more about the battle it was based on and the man whose story it was telling.
Let me tell you: You might not believe everything you see on screen and a certain amount of completely acceptable poetic license has been applied to the story, but it’s nothing compared to the amazing things Desmond Doss accomplished in real life.
by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)
Casting news for the second series of hit HBO show True Detective has been drip fed to us this week. Colin Farrell is set to star alongside Vince Vaughn.
These are a couple of brave choices to pick for lead roles. Neither have the acting chops that stars of the excellent first series, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, have.
Both can be good on their day but both have had very hit and miss careers in the silver screen.
Vaughn was good in the likes of Swingers, Old School and Dodgeball but has been in a lot awful – just awful – comedies and the only serious role I can think of him in was the Jurassic Park sequel.
Farrell’s career has been better but he is still capable of a Miami Vice sized stinker.
The first series will command optimism for the second, the current cast may dampen it.
Where Batman’s From
The Batman prequel (I think) Gotham premiered in the US to mixed reviews.
The show tells the story of Gotham pre-Batman and features Bruce Wayne as a child and is more about the early careers of Commissioner Gordon and some of the most iconic villains from the comics.
From the sounds of it they tried to cram too much in to the first episode in terms of nods and references but hopefully it can develop in to a good series on par with fellow DC small screen show Arrow.
Men and Women Who Are Mutants
Bryan Singer is returning to the X-Men franchise to direct the next outing, X-Men: Apocalypse.
Singer directed the first two and Days of Future Past which absconds him from responsibility of the awful third and the standalone Wolverine films.
A Group of Mates
When researching this weeks column I found a quiz celebrating the 20th anniversary of Friends. 20 questions testing your knowledge on the much loved sitcom.
I scored 15 out of 20. Respectable. Does the fact that a programme that I would not rank in my top 10 in its genre is so ingrained in my brain show just how good it really was?
I actually scored 1.7% less on a 15 question quiz on Spaced, which I like much more than Friends.
Some guys have all the luck. Keanu Reeves has found a girl in his library and in his pool in the last few weeks.
Imagine that. Having a pool and a library. Some towns don’t even have those resources.
Join us again next week, where we will return to give you another round up of the latest in film news.