Movie review: Hacksaw Ridge

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the year ends, I’m desperately trying to see all the movies I’ve missed and all the films that might make my top 10 list. Well, I just came back from the cinema where I saw a strong contender for it – Hacksaw Ridge.

IMDb summary: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Writing

TV writer Andrew Knight and playwright Robert Schenkkan wrote Hacksaw Ridge’s script and did a very good job. They managed to tell a very personal story in the context of a huge global event – WWII – and have given a unique perspective on it. This film, similarly to The Birth of a Nation, was not only a war drama but a religious picture too. The power of belief and religious dogmas were contrasted to the horrors of war. The writing for the main character was really good and extensive: his upbringing and personal background really helped the viewers to sympathize and even identify with him. I especially liked the contrast between his quite violent childhood and the feeling of innocence that he maintained in his adult years before the war (the sweet flirting scenes showcased that the best). These varying scenes made him into a fully rounded character and set up his character journey neatly. The truly heartbreaking and inspiring part of his story was the fact that he managed to keep his goodness when faced with the evilest thing in the universe – war.

The most compelling part of the film, to me personally, was the second act. I found it really interesting to see how this man struggled to even get to war. The court speech was one of my favorite pieces of dialogue (the other one being the line from the 3rd act ‘Help me get one more’). The debate on whether rules or beliefs are more important was interesting too.

When watching this movie’s narrative unfold on the big screen, a couple of questions popped into my mind. The first one revolved around bullying in the army – we all know that that happens in real life and we all have seen the countless movie scenes with the Sergeant shouting at the Privates. This type of a scene has become a cliche in both the reality and in cinema. The question that bothers me is why? Why is bullying in the army seen as accepted and normal rite of passage? The second, more general movie question, has to do with war dramas. Every year, at least one WWII or WWI film reaches theaters and they all usually do pretty well, both financially and critically. I’d like to know when are we going to run our of real (and fictional) war stories to tell? When is humanity’s fascination with world wars is going to end? Maybe if one starts in real life, there won’t be any need to look for this kind of horrific violence in the cinema.

Directing

After a 10 year hiatus, Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) came back to directing and did a magnificent job with Hacksaw Ridge. I loved how he realized all the different parts of the story (upbringing, training, and war) and how he paced them: the movie was quite slow and long but I didn’t feel like it dragged unnecessarily, the balance between drama and action was good. The way the actual war sequences were actualized was just spectacular. They were graphic, violent, and uncomfortable to look at – everything a war scene should look and feel like. From start to finish, Gibson crafted a solid and well-constructed motion picture, which was cleverly completed with the inclusion of the real life counterparts of the film’s characters. I always appreciate these real world tie-ins in the biographical dramas.

One last note before I move on to acting – I would really like to praise the sound designers of this film – their aural effects accompanied the striking visuals of war and really made an impact, this time around. The first few bomb explosions in the first few scenes of the war action really startled me – they were extremely effective.

Acting

  • Andrew Garfield played the lead and did an absolutely spectacular job. After he was replaced as Spiderman, Garfield has really turned his career around and focused more on serious and indie films rather than blockbusters. He started and produced 99 homes and was also in Scorcese’s Silence (which was yet to be released widely).
  • The supporting cast of the film featured so many familiar faces: Vince Vaughn (True Detective Season 2), Sam Worthington (Avatar, Everest), Luke Bracey (Point Break), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, LOTR, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas), Rachel Griffiths (Saving Mr. Banks), Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge!)Teresa Palmer (Point Break, Triple 9) and Nathaniel Buzolic (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals) had roles of varying sizes. All of them delivered great and realistic performances. One aspect in which the film lacked realism was the physical look of its soldier characters – the majority of them looked like male models rather than soldiers, but, this is Hollywood, so I should not have been that surprised.

To conclude, Hacksaw Ridge was a very strong WWII drama – the best one in recent years – coming close to even the likes of Saving Private Ryan in its levels of quality. This film had a truly amazing and unique narrative at its core, which was nicely brought to life by the main actor – Andrew Garfield –  and the main man behind the camera – Mel Gibson.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Hacksaw Ridge trailer

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Movie review: Everest

Movie reviews

Hello!

While technically the awards’ season hasn’t started yet, I believe that we have our first solid contender for the Best Picture nomination. You know how every year at least one more mainstream movie gets nominated? (For example, last year it was American Sniper, a year before that – Gravity.) Well, I think that Everest will be this year’s awards nominated blockbuster. Let’s review it!

IMDb summary: A climbing expedition on Mt. Everest is devastated by a severe snow storm.

Everest film is based on the real events of 1996 Mount Everest disaster. I, personally, knew nothing about this tragic event, since I wasn’t even born when it happened. Also, while I knew that the movie was based on real life events, I didn’t want to research them much beforehand, so that I would not spoil anything for myself. However, I will spoil some stuff in this review, so if you haven’t seen the film and don’t know the real story like I didn’t know it, maybe come back to the review after you watch the film. If you know the story or just don’t care about the spoilers, please – read on.

So, as with all Hollywood movies, one usually hopes for a happy ending. Well, it’s not the case with Everest. The most interesting part is the fact that until the very last minute, I was hoping for a happy ending. I was sure that we, as an audience, would get one. And only when the credits and the memorials came up, I’ve realized that this is not that type of a movie. Huge props to the creators of the film, who were able to keep the audience invested into the film till the very end. Also, they were able to break out of the Hollywood movie stereotype/pattern , which has a somewhat predictable ending and a plot filled with cliches.

Not only does this film keep you invested till the very last minute, it affects your emotions a lot. While at the beginning of the film, you can find some inspirational stuff about following your dreams, at the end, you ultimately arrive at the conclusion that some dreams are not worth risking your life for. Or maybe they are for some people? That’s an open discussion. For me, the film was extremely sad, especially the 2nd part of it and the ending was heartbreaking. I don’t really cry in movies, but I was really tearing up in this one. Thank god, that I was the only person in the last row.

Writing 

This screenplay for the film was written by two British screenwriters – William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy. Nicholson was a co-writer on Gladiator and has received an Oscar nomination for that film. He has also written a few of my favorite films – Les Miserables, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Unbroken (co-writer). Beaufoy has an Oscar for writing a script for Slumdog Millionaire and he was also one of the writers on the second Hunger Games film – Catching Fire.

I loved what they did with the Everest screenplay. The film had a lot of characters, but they all had their little moments to shine. As a result, this necessary character development allowed the viewers to feel connected to the characters and really care for them in the times of crisis.

Also, the idea that companies like Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness, who specialize in taking tourists to the summit of the Everest, really exist was a surprising one for me. I knew that were people who want to climb to the highest points of Earth, but I guess I never really expected somebody to allow them to do that for profit. Or that anyone would risk their life for such profit. But, I suppose if there are companies who would take tourists to space, you can’t expect people not to look for financial benefits down here on Earth. Also, as with every sport or occupation, there is a type of rush and desire to reach higher (literally, in their case), so I guess it shouldn’t be that shocking to me.

Directing

The film was directed by Baltasar Kormákur from Iceland. I haven’t seen his other films, but I’ve adored the visuals of Everest. From what I saw in the behind the scenes videos, I can tell you that they filmed a lot of this film on location. And even if they used some green screen and CGI, you could never tell the difference – the film was seamlessly edited. In addition, the scenery of the mountain range was beautiful and terrifying and the same time. The actual climbing footage was suspenseful and exciting.

Acting

This movie has a huge ensemble cast full of A-list actors and all of them bring their A-game. (A-listers and their A-game – sorry for the pun). I will only talk about a few of my favorite performances because this review would be way too long if I spoke about each and every character. Also, since in today’s world, you can’t review the movie without mentioning the color of the actors’ skin, I will just tell you that this film’s cast is predominately white. However, whitewashing is not the issue to the masses, because the film depicts real-life events which involved mainly white people. I’ve gotten extremely tired of people noticing the skin color of the actor before they notice the actual person, so, I hope you felt the sarcasm in a few sentences before this one. Let’s move on.

  • Jason Clarke as Rob Hall was the leading man of the film, whose story was the most heartbreaking one. Until the very end of the film, I wanted to believe that he will make it home to his wife and unborn daughter. Keira Knightley played his wife – Jan Arnold – and their conversations on the phone were extremely emotional and one of the saddest parts of the film. Speaking of the actors performances, I have seen a few films starring Clarke, but he never really stood out to me until this film. For example, I thought that he was only okay in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. However, I do believe his role as Rob Hall was his best performance to date and an amazing comeback after Terminator Genisys. Knightley was also amazing in her small part, but I was always a fan of hers, so that wasn’t surprising to me. 
  • Jake Gyllenhaal as Scott Fischer. Gyllenhaal just keeps impressing me more and more with his every film. His role was quite small here because the film had so many characters, but he was really good in it. I also applaud how versatile he is as an actor, not just with his body (Southpaw review), but with his overall mindset and investment into the character. While watching the film, you never really think about Gyllenhaal as an actor or about any other character that he has played before. You just sit there and marvel at a complete transformation of a true actor. 
  • Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers and John Hawkes as Doug Hansen. The reason that I’m putting these two people together is because I want to talk about the contrast that their characters brought to the film. Beck was a rich doctor, who climbed the mountain because he felt depressed at home with his wife, and Doug was a poor mailman, who did the climb to inspire kids from poor families. Beck’s reasons seemed much more selfish than Doug’s. The sad part is that Beck was the one who made it home and Doug didn’t. However, Dough reached the summit and Beck did not. So, their stories and the characters themselves, although contrasting at first, ended up being kinda equal. Beck’s reaction to the news of Doug’s death also added to that equality, because he seemed really upset by it. Speaking about the actors performance, I really enjoyed both of their portrayals of these real life climbers. I’m more familiar with Brolin’s work because he is Thanos in the MCU (very disappointing villain so far) and he also starred in Inherent Vice – the film that I have yet to watch but really want to. Brolin will also start in another movie this year, coming out very soon – Sicario – opposite  Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro (another MCU actor). On the other hand, I don’t know much about his co-star John Hawkes, but I really want to watch Winter’s Bone – a Jennifer Lawrence film which Hawkes also stars in.
  • Sam Worthington as Guy CotterEmily Watson as Helen Wilton and Elizabeth Debicki as Dr. Caroline Mackenzie were the 3 main members of the base camp team. While they were not part of the action of the film, they reaction shots mimicked the audience’s reactions perfectly. To my mind, these actors really played well with each other and were a convincing group. About the actual actors, Debicki has only recently appeared on my radar after The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I really liked her there and felt the same in this film as well. She will also be in this year’s Macbeth with Michael Fassbender – another film which I definitely want to watch. Watson was also a great addition to the cast. I’m not really familiar with her work, but really loved one of her latest films – Testament of Youth, though, she only had a small part in there. Worthington (another Terminator) was also really good in his role. Avatar is still my favorite movie of his and I haven’t seen him do better than that film so far. However, I haven’t seen Cake – last year’s Jennifer Aniston film, which received quite a good word of mouth. True, all the praises were directed at Aniston for her performance, but maybe Worthington was quite good as well. I suppose I need to watch the film to really know.

All in all, Everest is so far my favorite film of this fall and, in my opinion, a strong contender for the awards season. I hope that its release date (an early one) won’t be the thing that stops it from getting the recognition it deserves. The film is visually appealing to the eyes and emotionally captivating for the soul. Huge ensemble cast brings their A-game to the table, while the accomplished screenwriters and the director do justice to this heartbreaking real life disaster story.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Everest trailer

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