Hacksaw Ridge Review

When Mel Gibson releases a film people sit up and pay attention. Ever since Braveheart back in 1995, which he directed, starred and produced, Gibson has been one whose films are shocking and controversial while also receiving high critical acclaim. Does his new film Hacksaw Ridge follow the great string of films before it?

Hacksaw Ridge stars Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington and Teresa Palmer and is directed by Mel Gibson. The film follows the true story of Desmond Doss (Garfield) a contentious objector during the Second World War. He volunteers as an army medic instead and is sent out during the battle of Okinawa, in which he saved the lives of seventy-five men.

If Mel Gibson’s films are known for anything is their almost pornographic depictions of gore and violence and the sometimes heavy-handed religious metaphors and aggrandising of the main character. In terms of the former, Hacksaw Ridge has the blood and bodies turned up to eleven. This isn’t the bloodless fights of Marvel or the rather scaled-back violence in Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge paints the screen red with blood. It’s an odd balance of sickening and gratuitous; a solider picks up the corpse of a comrade and uses him as a shield, we get several body pans focusing in on missing legs and the Japanese soldiers use samurai swords when finishing off the barely surviving soldiers. The start of the film is an almost Nicholas Sparks-style romance film, with Garfield’s Doss falling in love with a nurse. When it comes time for the battle to start the switch to dismemberment is a tonal whiplash, leaving you completely open to the vile amount of gore on stage.

Garfield is near perfect in his role as Desmond Doss. Most people only really know Garfield as the second Spiderman, a character known for being quiet and unassuming. He brings that along with a childhood innocence and naiveté to the role, leading to a main character that you root for and understand his motivations. His religion is not over-played, it’s just another layer to the character. My only flaw would be his “aw-shucks” accent, which makes him sound like he’s talking with a mouth full of food. The rest of the cast are good even if most of his fellow soldiers are one-word stereotypes. And who knew that Vince Vaughn, the guy from Wedding Crashers and Dodgeball, would do a good job in an action role? Or that Sam Worthington could actually emote?

The accompanying score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is an excellent addition to the film. It has the hallmarks of a war movie; the marching drums and the bold brass for the action heavy second half, but evens it out with some beautiful string and woodwind solos during the beginning and the downtime in between the fights on the battlefield. It is easily one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time, not since Bridge of Spies have I been blown away by the score of a film.

The film does have some minor faults. While it was important to establish Garfield’s character’s optimism and innocence, the first half feels both overlong and cut short at the same time. It’s pretty much the first hour, but most of the scenes that are a good few weeks apart are shunted together like they are happening in the same day. As I said before the romance sometimes comes off a little corny with cheesy one-liners being most of Garfield and Teresa Palmer’s dialogue together. The film also ends with actual interview footage with Doss and his fellow soldiers, which feels a bit at odds since we’ve just got done watching a dramatisation of the events. Maybe it was to show that some things depicted in the film actually did happen, but I got that from the “this is a true story” at the beginning.

In the end, Hacksaw Ridge completely blew me away. While it may not reach the cultural heights of Braveheart (everyone knows the “they may take out lives” quote), it is still a bombastic, violent depiction of the Second World War. It’s definitely not one for the squeamish.

Score: 8/10 A cinematic tour-de-force on the brutality of war and the power of the human spirit.

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Allied Review

Yeah, I don’t have a Fantastic Beasts review yet. A mixture of being swamped with university work and large dose of apathy to watching the latest offering from JK Rowling means that it will be possibly a few weeks after it has come out when I finally get round to it. So instead, this week I have a film that I actually did have a passing interest in, from the director Forrest Gump and Back To The Future.

Allied stars Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard and Jared Harris and is directed by Robert Zemeckis. The film follows Canadian spy Max Vatan (Pitt) and French Resistance fighter Marieanne Beausejour (Cotillard) in Nazi-occupied Morocco. After falling in love and successfully completing their mission, they marry and move to London, but their life is shattered when rumours about Marieanne’s allegiance to the Allied Forces is questioned.

I was looking forward to Allied. There haven’t been many films set in the North African Theater of World War Two (the only ones I can think of are the fabulous Casablanca and Ice Cold In Alex), making Allied stand apart. While the opening half hour is set in Africa, the second part is relegated to London and French countryside. It’s such a let-down to move to an overused setting of WW2, and the film never really recovers. It’s also annoying that incredibly shoddy back projection has been used. It’s so easy to see that Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are sitting in front of a green-screen rather than an actual sand dune, and makes the film worse for it.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are fine in their roles. They have an old-school glamour about them, easily fitting into the time period and setting, but they aren’t helped by the script. It’s extraordinarily hammy, while also managing to be boring at the same time. There are moments of tension, but the script can’t keep the mystery of Marieanne’s allegiance going. One mystery, however good it maybe, cannot sustain a film’s runtime. You need other story arcs to be invested in, but Allied doesn’t deliver the latter part.

Due to both characters being fighters in the war, I was expecting some action scenes. We only get a measly two, and even those weren’t that long or thrilling. The assassination sequence and ensuing escape are barely built up, leading to a lacklustre climax. It would have been cool to see these two highly trained killers cause havoc inside the Nazi compounds, with some nice tracking shots of them moving through the buildings to their escape vehicle. But no, instead we have an incredibly short action sequence, a shame for how good it could have been. We have another action segment in the French countryside, but isn’t even worthy of merit to even talk about.

It’s not all bad. The film has its individual moments of brilliance, reminding us how good a director Robert Zemeckis is. The good parts are mainly in the Casablanca section; the first few hectic moments of the assassination and Marieanne and Max making love in their car while a sandstorm rages around them. The film has scenes with visual flourish, but can’t sustain them throughout an entire film.

It’s shouldn’t be hard to film a tense war-time thriller. Hollywood has been doing it since the 1950s. Heck, we just had one a few months ago in Anthropoid. And due to the lack of chemistry between the two stars, I’m not even interested in the ‘romance’ side of the ‘romantic-thriller’ that Allied has been billed at.  Unless you truly love the actors, or have an affinity for war-time aesthetics, this one should be a miss.

Score: 5/10 Early good looks and scenes give way to a dragging second half.

Anthropoid Review

Thank the film reels that summer is over. I must be sounding like a stuck record, but I’m genuinely happy that I don’t have to sit through any rubbish blockbusters or jokeless comedies for a while. Now the films will be Oscarbait, so even if some will be asinine art installations, we will get some absolute gems as compensation. And now, the opening act.

Anthropoid stars Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones and Charlotte Le Bon and is directed by Sean Ellis. The story follows the true story of two Czech Resistance members (Murphy and Dornan) during the Second World War, as they attempt to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the “Butcher Of Prague”.

The set-up of the film really intrigued me. So many war films seem to only focus on the European Theatre of WW2, and then restricting that down to D-Day and onwards. There are so many other battles, such as the attacks in Asia or Eastern Europe that many films don’t focus on (That’s why I intensely liked The Railway Man for focussing on the former). The Czech Resistance is an unexplored time period, so it would bring something fresh to the film.

The actors are excellent in their roles. Jamie Dornan, who is probably most known for his leading role in Fifty Shades Of Grey shows that he isn’t just a set of abs, with a character that is in the position of never being in a combat zone, and having to come to terms with the knowledge he may have to kill to survive. Cillian Murphy does his usual vacated role, a man who is a little too into being able to murder anyone who gets in his way. Both actors, as well as the rest of the cast sport Czech accents, which while sometimes are a little hard to understand, fit into the world and give it a nice sense of believability. This is heightened by the occupying Nazi’s all speaking German, so we, just like the main characters, are lost when talking to the occupiers.

The film is mainly the planning of the assassination attempt and the aftermath, with the assassination mainly being, at most, five minutes of the film. For those wanting an action-heavy WW2 film, this is not it. The film relies more on the tense atmosphere, the sneaking around, passing slips of paper under the cover of darkness knowing any moment the army might crash through the door. It’s excellent at creating that environment, knowing when to release or heighten the tension. The assassination scene is a highlight of the film, with an almost montage effect, splitting between the various members of the hit squad, waiting for their time to strike.

The film is lent more to the slow-build crowd, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t action segments. The assassination sequence, as well as the finale, are great recent example of how to do shaky camera well. Grenades are going off, gunfire is peppering the scenery, and the camera conveys it without being obnoxious. The final fight hits a watermark of emotion-driven drama, as we realise the limited ammunition the characters have and the unending waves of Nazi troops camped outside their safe house. It’s similar to films like Calvary or 300 (without the weird goatmen), where you realise that our protagonists might not make it out of the story in one piece.

The one part I wasn’t invested in however, was a small romance plot near the beginning. To solidify their cover stories, Murphy and Dornan start to date two Czech girls, allowing them to walk around Prague without the Nazi’s questioning them. The romance plot is not fleshed out, with Dornan and Murphy seemingly falling in love in mere minutes. The romance is meant to grow over a few months, but the time scale in the film makes it seem much sooner. It’s probably to fit the film under two hours, but it bugged me a little.

With Anthropoid, Oscar Season is off to a flying start. This is one to see, just so you can be smug to all your friends when it gets nominated.

Score: 9/10 A tense and stark reminder of the sacrifices of war.

Eye In The Sky Review

With drone strikes becoming a more and more hot-button issue in the modern world, it would only be a small amount of time before the film industry would jump on the situation. While we’ve had films about drones before (2013’s Drones and 2014’s Good Kill), But Eye In The Sky looks to be the first mainstream film on the subject.

Eye In The Sky stars Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman and Barkhad Abdi and is directed by Gavin Hood. The film follows several military personnel and politicians who are attempting to follows all of the moral, legal and ethical guidelines while still trying to eliminate high ranking terrorists using drones.

Eye In The Sky has a great collective cast. Alan Rickman, in his last on screen is doing what he does best, looking and talking with withering disdain. It’s not a bad role to end a great career on and could be a posthumous Supporting Actor nomination. Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul do well enough, it must be hard to act to a computer screen but they manage to make it work. Paul is still mostly known for Breaking Bad and it’s nice to see him break away from that role. The other standout besides Rickman is Barkhad Abdi. Abdi is known for his breakout role as the lead kidnapper in Captain Phillips and just like in that film, here he plays a very complex character for a relative newcomer. His role, which again is more looking at screens is layered and leads him into confrontation with terrorist militia, leading to an incredibly tense chase sequence.

The films characters are dotted all across the world and each of them plays a major role in the film’s story. While we start in Nairobi, Kenya where the terrorists are stationed, we are soon switching to Surrey, Whitehall, the Nevada Desert, Pearl Harbour, Singapore, Beijing and back again on the turn of a dime. You have to be ready for the quick jumps between each setting because there were even times when I had to take a couple of seconds to try and keep track of each one, especially since there are long breaks in between the lesser used locations of Pearl Harbour and Singapore. Most of the film is confined to rooms and people arguing over computer screens and phone calls, but it’s somehow really tense. Many for the characters who have the authority to call the drone strike, from the politicians to the less gung-ho commander’s want to “refer up” to a higher ranking official to take the heat off themselves, to the point where it becomes a bit comical. But each referral adds another layer for information and passcodes to be filtered through, all under the ticking clock plot device of the terrorists being able to leave their compound at a moment’s notice armed with suicide vests and bombs.

To talk about my problems with Eye In The Sky, I may slide into minor spoiler details since my main gripe is at the end of the film. The film tries to pull at the audience’s heartstrings, but it goes overboard in the last scene. It didn’t need to go so far, the two women who were sitting next to me were already in tears before the last couple of scenes, and these added moments just felt like the film was bashing the audience over the head with its message. The build-up to those moments were good and grapples with the audience’s morality as well as the characters, but for me it ended up looking like pandering.

In conclusion Eye In The Sky is a gripping, politically charged thriller. If you liked the Bourne franchise or something recent like 13 Hours, then think of Eye In The Sky as their older, smarter brother. It comes highly recommended.

Score: 8/10 Tense, topical and full of great performances.

13 Hours Review

I’ve always been a defendant of Michael Bay. I seem to be the only person in the medium of film reviews who can say that, but he does take some interesting film topics under his wing and adapts them onto the big screen for our enjoyment. I was a fan of his last non-Transformers film, Pain And Gain, so does his new film, 13 Hours, stand up with that?

13 Hours stars John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, Dominic Furmusa and David Denman and is directed by Michael Bay. Based on the true story of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, the film follows at team of US security personnel, as they try to keep both themselves and the diplomats they work for alive from advancing militia forces.

First off, I want to establish that Michael Bay is a formalist. For those unsure of what that means, Formalism is creating something (cinema, music, arts) by sticking to the set rules of the genre. For example, we all can think of how a rom-com will pan out, they all follow the same plot points. 13 Hours is no different, it fits the mould of an action film to the beat, but in a world of Marvel and reboots, sometimes you need to get back to basics, and 13 Hours is a good enough place to start.

The chemistry between the men is a really good point of the film. While they don’t have to act much, the downtime between the sprawling gunfights is actually quite entertaining. The jokes they make to each other, even in the darkest moments of the film, are fun and it’s almost endearing watching them trying to make each other laugh and smile while faced with overwhelming odds.

The gunfights are the meat of the film and they don’t disappoint. The film obviously has it’s Michael Bay moments (explosions and slow-motion are littered throughout) but it fits the setting and the story. The gunfights happen for several minutes at a time and for the entirety you are on the edge of your seat. It feels similar to films such as Black Hawk Down or something like the opening to Saving Private Ryan. Gunfire is going off, bombs are dropping all around and the camerawork conveys it very well. It’s not obnoxious shaky-cam for the sake of shaky-cam, it feels more like a documentary with several moments of steady shot in between the explosions going off.

The comparison to other films is abundant throughout. There is even a moment when the film uses the same point-of-view shot of the bomb from Pearl Harbor, but the film does carve out some of its own unique shots. There are some lovely moments of camerawork, ranging from helicopter sweeps of the city to intense close-ups of the men, or of white bedsheets stained red from the night’s fighting, each one reminding the audience that Michael Bay isn’t just here to create mindless action.

Some people have been quick to politicise the film, but even Bay himself said it’s not a political film. The story sticks very close to the members of the security detail, staying with them instead of exploring the outside context. I think this actually helps the film, we see the situation from their eyes, they don’t know why things are happening and neither do we. We just have to sit tight and let the film play out. It’s almost like a horror film, there is a great sense of claustrophobia within the compound that the men hole up in, with militia closing in on all sides and no-one in the outside world is coming to help.

In the end, I think 13 Hours might be Michael Bay’s best film. While some might think that’s not a long list, that shouldn’t dismiss 13 Hours action credentials. If you like war films, or even things like the Call of Duty or Medal of Honor series, 13 Hours will suit you fine.

Score: 7/10 Good for a couple of hours of fun.