Friday, 27 January 2017

Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge
Cert: 15 / 139 mins / Dir. Mel Gibson / Trailer

I have to be honest and say that the mawkish and patronising trailer for Mel Gibson's true-story wartime epic didn't put me in the most receptive frame of mind for the film*1, and nor indeed did the opening of that film itself, comprising a battlefield scene from the climactic sequence enacted in slow-motion with full orchestral accompaniment, and inserted apparently for the members of the audience who want All The Guns And Explosions Immediately Now. Was young Mel going to bring us a Spielberg film, after all? This is, after all, a film about a pacifist in a war-zone, so we should expect some level of preaching, right?

After the title sequence, the film drops a 'Fifteen years earlier' card and we see a pivotal moment in the young protagonist Desmond Doss's life. Skip forward from that, and we meet the adult Desmond (Andrew Garfield), properly for the first time. By now, we're in more familiar, character-building territory, with narrative support coming from his mother (Rachel Griffiths) and father (Hugo Weaving), as he meets his wife-to-be, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). And the latter three are all great performers, but the thing which already makes the film shine at this early point is Andrew Garfield. He's great, isn't he? Like, from his first scene where he's in a church, playfully making fun of his mother's choir (even if he is soon seen breaking the Code of Conduct by talking in a cinema, of course*2). Garfield brings an optimistic sincerity to his role as a conscientious objector who signed up to serve in the Army medical corps, where many another actor would have gone for naive righteousness. And while the trailer suggests that everyone around him is a one-note cutout, there to dissuade and belittle Doss until some third-act revelation, I was delighted that that's not the case. Those scenes in the trailer do take place of course, but at a pace which is kinder to everyone involved.

So, Act 2 comes along and with it the first battle on the titular Ridge. Good god. The utter, utter carnage. As much as I'm a wooly liberal at heart, this first extended sequence is deeply satisfying, cinematically*3. I can only describe what we see as Walking Dead levels of gore and mutilation. More interestingly, there's no score during this first fight, just a symphony of ordnance, screaming and the coursing of adrenaline. And that's worth noting because the second-wave battle the next day, and Doss's subsequent rescue-mission do have the soundtrack running behind them, which naturally increases the emotion of what we see, but lessens the overall impact.

As the film progresses, the characters are filled in more intricately, as is the gravity of the situation. And sure, it gets a little bit pantomime on occasion, but the film's worst pouting excesses are still easily forgivable. At two hours twenty minutes, this isn't a short tale, but it's worth every minute. And true-story or not, you will find yourself holding your breath and wondering who's going to make it. As is so often the way with this type of film, the closing segment shows archive interview footage from surviving members of the platoon and Doss's family*4; as is less-frequent, the film earns this entirely.

Thoroughly pleased to have my cynicism thwarted, Hacksaw Ridge is an outstanding film. Mel Gibson has done the unfathomable and made a movie which is completely respectful of pacifism, whilst also being unrepentantly gleeful in its violence.

He's also done the unimaginable by making a movie where Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington are an actual pleasure to watch*5

…although am I alone in thinking the poster tagline is basically Mel Gibson telling Clint Eastwood to fuck right off?

saucer of milk, table two…

At this rate, I suspect that Eastwood is going to jump on Gibson after school…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Saving Private Ryan, I imagine.
(Although I haven't seen that. No, you shut up.)

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the big and the loud? Oh, yes.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It certainly does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's up-there.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Probably not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Of COURSE there bloody is!

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Andrew Garfield was in that Silence with Qui-Gon Jinn and Kylo Ren. I mean yeah, that's a recent one, but I think it's worth not-forgetting.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 To the point where I had tickets for Monday's preview-screening, but after a shitty day at work, decided I couldn't handle being condescended to for two hours, knowing that the film was on general release from Thursday anyway. [ BACK ]

*2 Where young Desmond is pestering his date through the newsreel at the start. Okay it's not during the movie itself, but it's more important than trailers or something, y'know? Actually, it occurred to me in this scene that it would have been cool for Gibson to have used the newsreel footage we see in the first Captain America film, to easter-egg this movie into MCU continuity. But then it occurred to me that Hugo Weaving plays the Red Skull in The First Avenger, and he plays Desmond's dad in Hacksaw Ridge. And if Des's compatriots are initially reticent about going into battle with a pacifist by their side, I shouldn't imagine they'd feel any better if they found out his old man was the head of the Hitler-disowned Nazi deep-science division, Hydra. This is why I'm not a screenwriter, by the way. [ BACK ]

*3 Although I now want to see a sequence of that intensity, but with Stormtroopers and Rebel Fleet Troopers, like a live-action R-rated Battlefront. And naturally, I know that's never going to happen. [ BACK ]

*4 Although I'm not going to lie, from the 2003 interview we see at the end of the film, the real, actual Desmond Doss does remind of of Henry Kane from Poltergeist II, and that does kind of take the glow off the film a bit. Imagine lying bleeding out on a battlefield when he comes over to grab you, saying everything's going to be just fine[ BACK ]

*4 And yes, you're right - For the first time I've actually hyperlinked these footnotes so you can just flip up and down at a click/tap. It's a pain in the arse as I manually code all this, but I might just keep it up. That's how much I care about your scrolling-finger… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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