Hacksaw Ridge

Director: Mel Gibson (2017) BBFC cert: 15

Disgraced star Mel Gibson battles his way back to career success with this storming Second World War drama which has been nominated for six Oscars.

Gibson’s well publicised personal problems seemed to have shot his Hollywood popularity to pieces. But having spent time out of the firing line of bad publicity, this is a rollicking return to the filmmaking frontline for the devout Catholic.

The Oscar winning director of 1995’s Braveheart takes a barely believable story of real life heroism and transforms it into an apocalyptic account of faith under fire.

In the first half Gibson provides a treacle coated view small town America, and in the second he blasts us with the brimstone of battle.

Brit actor Andrew Garfield carries the film with open faced charm and innocence as Desmond Doss. Despite being a pacifist Christian, the conscientious objector won the US Medal of Honour in the war against the Japanese.

After a Tom Sawyer-ish upbringing in rural Virginia, Desmond becomes engaged to a pretty nurse called Dorothy. Teresa Palmer and Garfield share a sweet rapport in sentimental scenes which seem to last too long. But the astute Gibson is simply softening us up for the fireworks to follow.

Desmond signs up as a combat medic but he refuses to learn how to shoot. On the Pacific island of Okinawa, the platoon buckle under a blistering barrage. The combat rivals the famous ferocity of the opening scene in Spielberg’s war classic, Saving Private Ryan (1998).

With Desmond’s suffering persecution for his beliefs, his air of martyrdom and determination to succeed in an overwhelmingly hostile environment, it’s hard not to read his journey as an allegory for Gibson’s personal tribulations.

And rather than being a plea by the director for absolution for his misdemeanours, this is Gibson forgiving Hollywood for casting him out. And he does it with a superbly crafted, finely acted and tremendously entertaining film.


Point Break

Director: Ericson Core (2016)

This shallow remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 surfing cop classic arrives dead in the water, lacking any sense of danger or fun. Or any sense at all.

The wild thrill ride of Bigelow’s action movie has been refashioned as a stumblingly  hyperactive extreme sports eco thriller.

Luke Bracey’s dons Keanu Reeves’ old wetsuit as an extreme sports ‘poly-athlete’ turned trainee FBI agent Johnny Utah. But he lacks the charm, looks and talent of his predecessor.

Edgar Ramírez replaces Patrick Swayze as the enigmatic Bodhi, the nirvana chasing leader of the criminal gang Utah has to bring to justice.

Following the plot of the superior first film, Utah goes undercover to infiltrate Bodhi’s crew of bank robbing, wealth distributing whale huggers.

Showcasing their tatts and abs at every opportunity, they surf, climb and batglide their way around the globe.

It’s as if they haven’t considered a consequence of dropping bundles of banknotes in impoverished rural areas will cause localised hyperinflation and make the residents poorer.

Or put another way, I was so uninvolved with the story I found myself applying economic theory to their actions, rather than cheering an act of audaciously performed philanthropy.

Utah’s backstory relies on a stunt borrowed from Taxi (1998), the not much remembered, Luc Bresson produced, action comedy. One fears this does not bode well for what’s to follow, but sadly said boding is far from adequate.

Director Ericson Core began his career as a cinematographer and it shows. Wearing both hats here he conjures some wonderful images, especially down in the fresh surf and up on the snow.

But as a storyteller he’s woeful, offering ciphers instead of characters who spout appalling dialogue.

The aesthetic is teenage cool, lots of posing in front of burning cars and graffiti’d underground gang hangouts.

Utah carries a Zippo because it’s a cool thing to do. He doesn’t go so far as to carry any cigarettes. Because smoking isn’t cool. Unless you’re offered a toke on a joint, which is edgy and therefore cool and allows for a cool pose.

Ray Winstone growls and tries to make himself useful as overseas FBI agent Angelo Pappas, but he has nothing to contribute to the plot.

Teresa Palmer’s position as bikini clad babe Samsara Dietz is to be leered over by the camera and prove Utah’s heterosexuality. And cook dinner for the chaps.

As a replacement for Lori Petty’s fierce and sculptured surfer from the original, Palmer is hopelessly out of her depth.

Delroy Lindo is Utah’s FBI controller who’s passion is for extreme exposition.

Employing three different editors suggests a reason why the movie feels so piecemeal, it’s a collection of set pieces strung together not a coherent story.

Plus edited in the irritated manner of a music video sells the stunts short. Much longer edits would sell us a frisson of much needed veracity, creating a threat the guys may at some point be hurt.

But as the stunts become bigger and higher, the stakes become lower. We’re not invested in the story and the physics defying leaps possess the dramatic depth of a video game.

There’s an absence of humour and no sense of the film is aware of it’s own preposterous nature.

Flagged up twice is the film’s one interesting idea, that the FBI are acting as the security wing of multinational corporations, inverting the good guy/bad guy dynamic and making Utah the villain.

But it’s not explored in any way and brushed aside in favour of yet more lightweight action.

The stunt team and camera operators deserve plaudits but for everyone else it’s a wipeout.