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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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.