*NEW* HACKSAW RIDGE REVIEW *NEW*

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Brutal, gripping, hard hitting. Not the greatest war film of all time BUT a bloody good watch all the same.

The true story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refused to kill people, and became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

I was a little worried at first that Garfield was going to come off as a bumbling Forrest Gump with his bashful demeanour and Southern accent BUT he delivered enough charm and charisma to win me over. A strong performance.

The first 40-odd minutes was corny but easy going enough as we followed Desmond through his childhood years right up to his enrollment. A good portion of that time was spent on wooing the local nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer – Lights Out). It may have been a little schmaltzy BUT the pair had good chemistry and I was happy to watch.

The flashbacks flicking back and forth into Desmond’s past broke up the cheesy romance as we discovered the reasons behind his refusal to carry a firearm.

It was great to see Hugo Weaving as Doss’ embittered drunken vet father. He played it with aplomb. A tormented man who felt he had already died with his men in the Great War. Seeing his survival as nothing more than a curse.

Punishing himself and his family. His reaction when he discovered that his two sons had enlisted was surprising.

The boot camp training montage was a little predictable. Especially when Doss had to compete with the macho hot head Smitty Ryker (Luke Bracey – Point Break). BUT it still hit home as Desmond fought against the military hierarchy. Reserving his right to serve as a medic:

“No less danger, just . . . while everybody else is taking life, I’m going to be saving it. With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me to wanna put a little bit of it back together”.

I wasn’t sure whether Vince Vaughn would cut it as Sergeant Howell. I was hoping this role would be a change from his usual spiel. BUT his Wedding Crashers style drill call and endless shouting was a little hit and miss. It was a little too OTT for my liking as he gave the privates nicknames. However, there was a couple of clever one liners.

BUT as Doss’ struggle worsened, Howell soon won me over as he realised the stubborn Virginian wasn’t going to back down. Fighting for his beliefs.

Sam Worthington (Avatar) was brilliant as the callous Captain Glover. Embarrassed to have a “conscientious objector” in his ranks. Ordering Howell to force the boy’s resignation.

Doss’ treatment was shocking. Beaten until he was black and blue by members of his own infantry. Pushed to the very edge. He was even denied a day pass to attend his own wedding. Unbelievable.

It went right up to a military tribunal and even during the first attack on Hacksaw, troops were still weary of the medic. The second half of the film was something to behold. A true act of honour and dedication.

I had no doubt on ol’ Blue Eyes taking the helm. We had already seen a return to form in his stellar turn in Blood Father BUT this latest entry from the Braveheart and We Were Soldiers director was a step in the right direction.

The violence was ridiculous. Gibson definitely didn’t hold back the punches. It was visceral, gory and bloody as hell. He really showed the true extent of what war can do to a soldier.

The only problem with all the CGI (especially with the flamethrower attacks) was that it came off like something out of Starship Troopers! And when Doss kicked that grenade like a football, I couldn’t help but tut. Hollywood had to put their stamp on it somewhere.

“Just give me one more”

I was on tenterhooks right up to the emotional and fitting tribute. As every one else had climbed back down off the ridge, Doss stayed to tend to the wounded.

Covering up the injured from the lurking Japanese. Evading capture and sniper fire. Discovering their hidden trenches. Tense, gripping. I was completely transfixed as this young man, with no firearm, saved 70 soldiers who were already deemed lost by their superior officers.

He even tried to save several Japanese officers who didn’t quite make the journey back to the medical tent.

Despite a 139 minute running time, the pace didn’t test. Garfield impressed yet again, giving one of his best performances to date. It was nail biting and enthralling. That final act when Glover apologizes to the crazy Virginian was heartbreaking.

The real life interviews and footage in the closing credits really brought it home.

A compelling drama as one man defied the odds and fought for what was right. Worth a watch.

3.5/5

*NEW* LION REVIEW *NEW*

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Heartbreaking, if a little long at the tooth.

A five-year-old Indian boy (Sunny Pawar) gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

I was concerned that this film might stumble into Slumdog Millionaire territory, especially with Dev Patel at the helm. The opening established a similar premise; two brothers committing petty crimes to provide for their poverty stricken family.

However for the first hour, I was completely hooked. It was gruelling, gripping and shocking as Saroo travelled 1600km from home. Lost, confused and nowhere to go. You really felt for the little man. I didn’t realise that there were different dialects in India (Woe is me) with the Hindus struggling to understand Saroo’s Bengali.

Sunny Pawar delivered a stellar debut. I’m surprised he didn’t get a nod over Patel. Patel didn’t even appear until the hour marker!

It takes a lot for a child actor to catch your attention and make you empathise and root for them. Most of the time, kid actors just get on my nerves and overstay their welcome. Thankfully, Pawar did not fit into this category.

The film even raised awareness about the horrible living conditions that orphan children endure. Sleeping on the streets, raiding bins for scraps, fearing the police will arrest them or even worse that strangers will take them for their bidding. An unsettling encounter between Saroo and a ‘friendly’ man sent shivers.

I couldn’t believe the hypocrisy within the “adoption agency”. Beating children and forcing them to learn English. Lying to the poor boy, telling him that they couldn’t find his family. Devastating.

I was really invested in this amazing true story as Saroo moved to Australia. Nicole Kidman (The Hours) and David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) were brilliant as his new adopted parents. Supporting him as he tried to make head or tail of the new situation.

A harrowing contrast was made when the Brierleys decided to adopt another child. Highlighting the true horrors of the agency as the psychologically scarred Mantosh failed to make the same transition as Saroo. Not every child as lucky to escape as you’d hope.

It was only when the film flicked forward 25 years later that the story lost momentum.

Award nominated turn? I wasn’t convinced BUT Patel still delivered a sterling turn.

It was nice to see Rooney Mara (Carol) play a normal role. I’m used to seeing her appear in some strange affairs. I felt she was a little underused. However, this wasn’t her story.

The pair had good chemistry and the film bumbled along at an easygoing pace as things seemed to be looking up for the fully grown Saroo. However, a relic from back home soon triggered old memories from his past. Ones he had forgotten.

The meandering middle act was my only niggle. It tested me.

You could empathise with Seru’s depression as he shut himself away from his friends and family. Living that guilt every day knowing his real brother and mother could still be looking for him.

The haunting nightmares, the visions of his brother’s face. BUT there was only so much Google Maps browsing and crazy dream sequences I could muster before I was screaming, “Get to India. Find them!”

I know he was trying to remember his village from repressed memories across a 1600 km landscape BUT the pace really was a killer.

I wanted more interaction with the family. There wasn’t enough Nicole Kidman for my liking. I loved the dynamic between Sue Brierley and Saroo over the years. That scene when she revealed the reasons for adopting him were heartbreaking. I wanted more of that closeness.

You really felt for her (and Mara’s character) as she tried to understand what Saroo was going through.

However, the ending was emotional and heart-rending as Saroo finally returned to India. The closing credits really hit home with real life footage.

The pace could have cut by a good 20 minutes BUT it was still a rewarding drama worth a watch.

3.5/5