Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Andrew Knight (screenplay), Robert Schenkkan (screenplay)
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving.
Review by Gilbert Seah
After about a decade absence from the director’s chair (his last film was the misunderstood APOCALYPTO in 2006), the director of BRAVEHEART and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST returns in top form as if redeem in himself of all the bad press he had garnered since he said and did some foolish things. It’s another situation in this 21st century social media era where the outside events of the director “tarnish” the actual film itself. Think “Birth of the Nation”. Two films that should potentially receive multiple Oscar nominations. But will they? And should they?
The film is a true story, bravely told, inspiring as well, set in World War II featuring the most unlikely of heroes – a pacifist who refuses to carry a rifle. Not only does the film boast inspired direction by Gibson, but it also contains perhaps the best performance of the year by a young actor, the most recent SPIDER-MAN, Andrew Garfield – if not the best performance of his career. It should be a crime against someone like Garfield for being so good-looking and talented at the same time.
The true story of medic, Private Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during WWII on religious grounds. Doss was drafted and ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance but went on to earn respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion after he risked his life — without firing a shot — to save 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa.
The script by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan can hardly go wrong. What the story needs, the script does. Firstly, it strongly establishes the reason for Desmond’s behaviour and beliefs. The contradiction of the father’s character is also smoothly tied in with conviction. The film is basically divided into two parts. The first is Desmond’s basic training (boot camp) where he is mocked by both his superiors and his fellow soldiers. He is also given the dreaded blanket party at night. The second part of the film and the most brutal is his service in the battlefield. At times, the film feels like Stanley Kubrick’s FULL MEATL JACKET which contains two similar segment but Gibson’s second section, unlike Kubrick’s is the more exciting one.
Besides Garfield’s outstanding performance, Vince Vaughan delivers an equally impressive one, the role of a stern sergeant, much uncharacteristic of what audiences expect from him. Aussie Hugo Weaving (THE MATRIX movies; PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT) is also perfect as the hard drinking father who when finally does good and justice for his son, whose performance will break the hardest of hearts.
Those who are able to remember THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST will see more tortured scenes in the film. The battle scenes – with heads exploding; guts pouring out; dismembered bodies and wounds infested with maggots and rats are not easy ones to watch. The scenes rival Spielberg’s unforgettable beginning sequence in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and one can only guess what is yet to come with Christophe Nolan’s upcoming DUNKIRK.
The closing credits serve to prove to the audience that as wild as this story might be, the truth exists. Archive footage of the real heroes as depicted in the film speak out, often saying the identical words in the film’s script.
America needs her heroes in these difficult times of terrorism and racism. AMERICAN SNIPER and SCULLY are heroes depicted in films that have done extremely well at the box-office. Opening close to Remembrance Day, this film deserves to do well and might be the hit the flailing studio Lionsgate needs. Forget DOCTOR STRANGE! This film hits the mark!
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