based on a true story, drama, history, war

Hacksaw Ridge

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If you don’t like blood, slow-motion, or Vince Vaughn in a serious role, then you won’t like Hacksaw Ridge. It’s Mel Gibson’s first film since Apocalypto, and I’m not sure he even knew what he was making. It’s quite the war film in that its choreographed violence is impeccably bleak, while its moments of spirituality are brightly lit and sincere. Then you’ve got Private Private Parts, a naked guy going through basic training. What is happening?

The story is a true one, based on the early life and service of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an Army Medic in World War II who refused to carry a weapon. It’s disappointing the start of the film shows Doss in battle – it makes the “suspense” of his trials during basic training (literal and figurative) rather mute. But as we see him grow from a boy to a man, a boyfriend to a husband, and a trainee to a medic, we develop feelings for this conscientious objector and that helps make what seems too good to be true exciting to watch. The breathtakingly gruesome portion of the film portrays the Battle of Okinawa, which took place on Hacksaw Ridge (get it?) – essentially a cliff. After battle, American soldiers climbed down, but Doss stayed and saved 75 men. While in reality this heroic act led Doss to receive a Medal of Honor, a condensed film version showing Garfield dodging literally every bullet, grenade, and countless Japanese soldiers in a tunnel takes away from the awe of it all. I would’ve been thrilled to see just three lives miraculously saved by Doss, but Gibson seems to show all 75. Well, maybe 50. But the montage was a lot of the same, and I left feeling underwhelmed. It doesn’t help that we never see Doss train to be a medic (beyond reading a book on arteries and veins from his then-girlfriend Dorothy [Teresa Palmer]), and when he does save these men it always started with, “Put pressure on it!” Perhaps this is accurate but with the often corny creative liberties Gibson did take, why not add something Grey’s Anatomy worthy?

Ending with real footage alongside what can best be described as iMovie style, viewers are reminded of what an authentic story Ridge tells. At a time when emotions, beliefs, and opinions seem to be simultaneously more valued and divisive than ever, the tale of a man defending his conscious while supporting the greater good is interesting to watch. Because of this, and Garfield’s potential Oscar nom, see Ridge. Or skip the blood spewing and slow-mo fog and read up on Doss.

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based on a true story, biography, drama, history

Spotlight

Spotlight, 2015

Spotlight, 2015

As Michael Keaton’s Robby Robinson explains in the film, Spotlight is about “two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry.” And though that line is used to try and convince a lawyer to discuss cases, it almost perfectly explains the movie’s three plots. Yes Spotlight tells 1) the true story of decades of child abuse and cover-ups by the Catholic Church, and 2) how it took more than the efforts of Boston’s Archdiocese to keep these events secret, but it also 3) tells how the Boston Globe Spotlight team worked from 2000 – 2001 to prove it. It’s an investigative journalism film that not only rises the genre to the glory days of All the President’s Men but also hits closer to home than arguably any of its peers since the crimes investigated affect not only a community but a city, nation, world, religion, and individuals and their families. The truth’s ripple effect is palpable long after the film ends.

With such a star-studded cast, there’s reason to believe Spotlight is at least good on paper, but its excellence goes far beyond the script. It’s performed beautifully and understatedly, with Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James playing reporters Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Matt Carroll. In addition, Liev Schreiber plays Editor in Chief Marty Baron and John Slattery is Ben Bradlee Jr, an assistant editor. Throw Stanley Tucci in the mix, plus exceptional actors portraying victims of the scandal, and you’ve got a group that makes the film nearly underwhelming because it doesn’t feel like a performance at all. In other words, last year, Keaton was speaking to and becoming Birdman and literally flying (or did he?), while in Spotlight he is grounded and relatable as Robinson, thanks to his human normalcy that could make one wonder what’s so special. This praise could be given to each actor, whose subtle use of feeling and force makes the emotional rollercoaster of Spotlight all the more intense.

The film’s muted colors and moments of silence (though, props to its gorgeous score) create a somber space that only had me wanting more time, more answers. By the end (please, stay for the credits people) I was alone in the back of a theatre weeping. There’s countless reasons Tom McCarthy’s latest is getting so much attention. And it’s well deserved.

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