Tag Archives: anti-war

Hacksaw Ridge – Review

21 Nov

I recently wrote a review of Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalypto, which I think is one of the coolest and most passionately movies I’ve ever seen. Since then, Gibson has gotten into all sorts of trouble, and his career has certainly suffered for it. While I can’t get behind anything he’s said or done, I’m still a huge fan of his work and it was unfortunate to see him fall so far off the radar. After 10 years, Gibson has returned to the director’s chair with Hacksaw Ridge, an anti-war film that’s based off an incredible true story of one man’s courage and beliefs that are often at odds with the rest of his brothers in arms. All I can say is that this is a very strong return which will hopefully remind Hollywood and movie goers everywhere about an intensely strong talent that has been missing from the spotlight for the past decade.

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Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a young man living in Lynchburg, Virginia during World War II. Throughout the years of the war, he sees his friends and neighbors leave to enlist and often times never return. When his brother enlists, much to the anger of his WWI veteran father (Hugo Weaving), Desmond also enlists as a conscientious objector with a goal of becoming a field medic and never picking up a weapon. As Desmond leaves his family and his love of his life, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), behind he finds that the Army isn’t quite as accepting as he thought. After jumping through legal hoops and defending himself against his platoon’s leaders, Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Cpt. Glover (Sam Worthington), he and his brothers in arms are shipped off to Okinawa to a strike point known as Hacksaw Ridge. There, Doss is witness to the brutal horrors of war and the violence one man can inflict upon another, but his strong beliefs and courage never waver and he becomes a truly respected hero of WWII.

There’s many different ways to go about telling a story. You can jump right into the action or you can take your time and build up the characters and motivations before really getting into things. There’s no objective right or wrong way to do this, but the writers and Mel Gibson really landed how to tell the story of Hacksaw Ridge. The best way to describe it is that the story is broken up in two halves. The first half of the movie show Desmond at home with his family, his decision to enlist, and his time defending his beliefs at basic training. The second half of the movie is the battles and other heroics at Hacksaw Ridge. The second half is such a devastating experience that is guaranteed to exhaust the viewer, but it wouldn’t have had that same impact if time wasn’t spent building up Desmond’s character and his relationship with his family, peers, and superiors. When something terrible happens to a character in this movie, I felt a physical reaction because of the previous half of the movie turning a fictional character into what felt like a real person. This is a war film at its most effective.

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I’ve seen from some critics that Hacksaw Ridge glorifies extreme violence. While the violence may be extreme, it never glorifies it. There was no time during the battle sequences where I thought an act of violence was cool. That’s not what this movie is about, and by the end I felt like I couldn’t take that final trip up the cliff and face the horrors again. This is a movie about two conflicting themes being met at a place that is hell on earth. Desmond’s pacifist and religious beliefs seem to have no place on the battlefield, and you’d expect these beliefs to change once he saw what his fellow humans are capable of. Gibson shows war in a straightforward and unflinching way which is reminiscent to the violence that is seen in Saving Private Ryan. Sure, there’s really brutal incidences that receive a lot of focus, but this was for the purpose of showing a religious individual faced with a situation that can be seen as entirely godless.

I always say that the writers are nothing without the actors and the actors are nothing without the writers. It’s a symbiotic relationship that walks a fine line with the director present to make sure everyone stays on track. Here we have actors all performing at the top of their game. Andrew Garfield seems to completely become Desmond Doss and Oscar consideration has to be given to Hugo Weaving for his small but unforgettable performance. Vince Vaughn gets more respect from me as well along with Sam Worthington in a career best performance. These are the names that stick out when I think of Hacksaw Ridge, but the rest of the cast also bring their best no matter how small the part may seem. A realistic movie requires realistic and believable performances and they radiate from the screen in the movie.

Hacksaw Ridge is a confident and impressive look at the horrors of war and is among the best and most powerful war movies ever made. The performances stand high amongst the carnage and the themes tower right along with them. This isn’t a movie about religion, but more so a movie about beliefs and conviction and the sacrifice it takes to uphold them. This is a masterwork in the genre of war and quite simply one of the best movies of the entire year.

Final Grade: A+

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The Thin Red Line – Review

12 May

Terrence Malick is a very strange Hollywood entity that’s made not that many films over the course of over 40 years. His first two films, Badlands and Days of Heaven, were met with huge success. After these two achievements, Malick disappeared off the face of the earth until 1998 when he released his World War II epic The Thin Red Line. This is around the same time that Spielberg released what I consider to be the best war movie ever made, Saving Private Ryan, but there are people who believe that Malick’s film is right up there with it. While I will say that it is one of the most memorable and well made war films to come out of Hollywood, it may also be one of the weirdest.

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After being picked up on an island in the South Pacific after going AWOL, Pvt. Robert Witt (Jim Caviezel) is chewed out by Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) and sent to Guadalcanal to be a part of a siege to secure Henderson Field from the Japanese. While on the island, the mass of soldiers have to secure Hill 210, which causes devastating casualties for the American forces. As the battle rages on and the days begin to pass by even slower, every soldier looks death in the eye through the sights of their guns and has to come to terms with the life that he’s led, the inevitable future that lays ahead,  and the possibility that they may never return home to the world that they know and have created for themselves.

The Thin Red Line is an outstanding example of a war movie, and I’m not sure how many people would deny that. While many war films deal with the European front, this movie deals with the battle that was raging on in the Pacific, specifically on Guadalcanal. This movie takes a really long time to get started, but when the battle finally gets going it doesn’t let up for a really long time. The original cut of this movie goes on for a little over 5 hours, and this is a rare time where I’d actually love to see the full 5 hour version because the 3 hour one that we have is so enthralling I feel like I need to see more. The combat is so intense and realistic that I began feeling anxious for the soldiers onscreen, even though I knew well enough that it was a movie. Not only is this a very intense movie, but the scenes of battle are shot in the most intricate and beautiful of ways. The camera sweeps over the battlefield in such a fashion that I can’t say I ever saw before. That is where Malick’s vision truly shines, and it’s almost blinding.

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So the battle scenes are all excellent and beautifully shot, but also the quieter scenes are shot in such a way that we see all of the beauty of nature that stands idly by as men wage their wars. It’s a pretty strong antiwar message done well, but things do tend to get a little weird. There are parts throughout the movie where the characters give these long winded soliloquies about the turmoil that they face everyday and the toll it’s taking on their lives and their beliefs. Seriously, this movie would gain a lot of points if those voice overs were taken out completely. It’s melodramatic and distracting because people simply don’t talk like that, especially when it’s already been established that it’s definitely not how that character talks normally. It’s just way too over the top, but that’s really my only complaint with this movie.

The Thin Red Line has a very odd story behind the making of it that makes it something of a Frankenstein monster masterpiece. Malick is known for taking an absurd amount of time to edit his movies, and this is a clear example of how far he’ll go to ensure he gets the picture he wants. Adrian Brody’s character went from being a lead to a secondary character who barely even speaks. The opposite goes for Caviezel, who’s character became the main focus of the story. The cast of actors in this movie is huge, but a lot of them end up being only cameos. Like I said, this movie was originally 5 hours long, so a  lot of their screen time got cut. Still, Malick knew what he wanted and the final product is great.

Plain and simply, The Thin Red Line is one of the best war movies ever made. There’s been countless, both old and new, but this movie has a certain beauty to it that Terrence Malick is known for capturing. That’s what really makes it stand out. Unfortunately, the film does lose points for the weird voice overs that more than border on the pretentious side. While that is a flaw, the rest of the movie is an epic masterwork of human drama and war.

Fear and Desire – Review

14 Apr

Anyone who knows me knows that I practically worship Stanley Kubrick. He had, and still has after his death, one of the most powerful and unique voices in film. Like all great directors, even he had to start somewhere. After making some short documentaries and being a photographer for Look, Kubrick decided it was time for him to tackle a feature film. This first feature film is an anti-war movie called Fear and Desire. This is by far Kubrick’s weakest film, and that’s completely understandable. The best reasons to really watch this movie are to see techniques that Kubrick would later perfect and also to admire the effort put into making a movie so independently.

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During an unspecified war between unspecified countries four soldiers are stranded 6 miles behind enemy lines. Their commanding officer, Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera), decides their best bet would be to build a raft and wait until nightfall to ride it downriver to safety. After a while, a local woman (Virginia Leith) stumbles upon them building their raft and must be held captive so she doesn’t alert enemy soldiers. As the day goes on, the youngest soldier, Pvt. Sidney (Paul Mazursky) begins having a breakdown and slowly goes insane. Things get even more complicated when it is discovered that an enemy general is lodged in a cabin right near the river and, as soldiers, it is their duty to eliminate the threat. All of these factors stacked up make it seem like these four soldiers may never get out of there alive.

Before I even start, that has to be one of the most inaccurate theatrical posters I’ve ever seen. That’s not with this about, so I digress. It’s almost hard to call Fear and Desire a feature film because it’s only an hour long, and being just an hour long it doesn’t really have much of a story. There’s a couple different things that happen to the soldiers and their main goal is to escape enemy territory. It’s completely fine if a movie is light on story so that it can explore certain themes and development, but there’s never much time to do that. The most interesting character is Pvt. Sidney since he has some real tragic development, which in turn supports Kubrick’s stance on what the evils of war can do to a normal person.

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For all the shortcomings this movie has, it’s very interesting to watch and see certain things that Kubrick would later utilize in his other movies. First of all, the overall anti-war message and its effects on people can clearly be seen in his later war films Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket. The violence in this movie is also pretty unflinching. Of course it isn’t as graphic as later movies, but there’s nothing glamorized about it. Wanna people are shot, they don’t really fall like they’re in a movie from the 1950s. They hit the ground hard and without any kind of dramatic flair. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but that’s what I feel. There’s also strange close ups and angles that seem to distort reality, which is a trick that Kubrick was known for using at length in films like 2001: A Space OdysseyA Clockwork Orange, and The Shining. Stuff like this make Fear and Desire fun to watch.

As the years went on, Kubrick came to hate this movie and it wasn’t until the last few years that it was made readily public. He described it as a kids drawing that you hang on the refrigerator, and I think that’s a pretty harsh sentiment. He made it his mission to destroy the copies that exist or lock them away, which was the case for a very long time. This movie didn’t do very well at the box office when it was released which meant that Kubrick had to take on the job of making a short documentary called The Seafarers for the Seafarer’s International Union, which is also now available on the Kino release of Fear and Desire.

Fear and Desire is most definitely Kubrick’s first film, and I don’t mean that because it’s a historically accurate statement. I’m saying it because it has all of the makings of a Stanley Kubrick movie, but it just hasn’t all been fully realized yet. This is an interesting movie in the sense that it’s the beginning of an amazing career. The movie itself is pretty lackluster and not too memorable, but there are some pretty intense scenes that don’t seem like they belong in the early 1950s. Any Kubrick fan sort of has to watch this movie, but if you’re looking for a war movie that will really hold your attention, stick with Paths of Glory or Full Metal Jacket.

Casualties of War – Review

21 Feb

Some of my favorite war movies are these grand, sweeping spectacles with dazzling set pieces and all star ensemble casts added in just to make the entire experience feel even bigger. My prime example would be Saving Private Ryan, but films like Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers also fits the mold very. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Casualties of War, which is an example of a much smaller and personal conflict that occurred during the Vietnam War. This certainly doesn’t make for a less harrowing movie, especially under the direction of Brian De Palma, but the fact that this story actually happened makes it all the more intense.

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Max Erikkson (Michael J. Fox) is a fresh Vietnam recruit who is actually ready to serve his country overseas. He is put in a small squad of close knit soldiers led by the beloved and respected Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn). After his closest friend is killed in an ambush and with his tour coming to an end, Meserve starts losing his grip on the entire situation and decides that his squad is going to go to a nearby village on their next mission and kidnap a girl (Thuy Thu Le) to use as their slave along the way. The only person in the squad who sees how crazy and wrong this is is Eriksson, but the desires of the squad completely overtake any sense of right and wrong leaving Eriksson to get threatened and harassed at every turn. When the time to bring justice finally arrives, things only become more complicated when Eriksson’s superiors blindly turn away from the facts.

So Casualties of War may not be the grandest or most expensive war movie ever made, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t memorable. In fact, I’ll probably remember this one for a lot of different reasons. This film shows a war of conscience, individuality, and camaraderie occurring during the much larger Vietnam War. There are a lot of small things that make this movie work so well, and only one hinderance that I can think of. The entire film is pulled taut with suspense and a dreading sense that anything can happen since no one is looking in the jungles. This made for a pretty wild ride for most of the movie, and the only disappointment is that there wasn’t enough time spent on the ending of the film. That’s a pretty small complaint in comparison to all of the positives.

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Brian De Palma is a film maker every film buff knows and hopefully has a good understanding on how he makes his films. At first it seemed like a strange idea having De Palma directing a war film, but he really is a guy that can delve into any genre and after seeing this movie I know why he was the right choice. Other than way he directs his actors and gets the most out of their performances, he also has a very distinct signature style that brought a lot to Casualties of War. De Palma is known for enhancing the drama in his movie with split diopter shots, and it may be used the most effectively here. These shots allow a close up of someone’s face while different atrocities and acts of violence occur behind and around them, still clearly in view while the character may be facing away. It’s expertly used in this film.

Of course, none of this would work if the stars of this movie weren’t perfectly cast. I was mainly intrigued by this movie because I was curious to see how Michael J. Fox would play in a war film. I gotta, say I’m surprised with how much I believed his character. Opposite him is Sean Penn, as the film’s main antagonist. The way the movie’s set up, we like him just as much as Fox’s character does in the beginning, but as the story progresses, we start to evolve emotionally with Fox and start hating Penn’s character more and more. A young Sean Penn gives the best performance of the movie and works great with the much more innocent Michael J. Fox.

Casualties of War is a great but minor war film. It’s interesting to see a war movie deal with more individual crises, instead of looking at a particular battle or even the entire war as a backdrop. This is a very intense movie. It has an intense script, intense performances, and intense direction. Fans of war movies should definitely check it out for a pretty unique experience.