CGB Review of Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

“Everyone has a conscience and must follow it.”
–Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

This is my review of Hacksaw Ridge!

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Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of my new favorite American hero, Desmond Doss, a medic during World War II who, influenced by his Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs, refused to use and even touch a gun, instead choosing to save as many wounded soldiers as he could.  He would later go on to become the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Hits
Andrew Garfield–wow, man–I have grossly underestimated you.  With a thoughtful performance, Garfield portrays Desmond Doss as, essentially, a real-life Captain America; brave but vulnerable, noble and flawed, and grounded in his convictions.  I’d also like to add that this is a balanced portrayal of a Christian character.  Often times, a mistake that is typically made in Pure Flix films (both the God’s Not Dead flicks and, to an extent, Do You Believe?) is a Christian character is all good simply because they wear the Christian label.  Hacksaw Ridge allows Desmond to be a three-dimensional human being who is a pacifist and a devout Christian.  I really appreciate that this movie doesn’t have him convert anybody because let’s be honest: That’s just not how life works, especially in our cynical, secular society.  Desmond doesn’t convert anyone to his way of thinking, but he does rightfully earn the respect and admiration of his peers simply for staying true to who he is.
Also, kudos to Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington, both of whom actually deliver pretty darn good performances, especially Vaughn, who I’ve only seen in crummy comedies.  Hugo Weaving does a great job too, but then again, of course he would.  I have yet to see a subpar performance from him.
This movie handles subtlety masterfully.  Elements of Desmond’s past are revealed through quick but well-placed flashbacks that are intercut with present day.  There is one particular flashback that explains his no-guns philosophy, but it’s not shoved down your throat; it only shows up three times and it makes everything come full circle once Desmond himself explains it to another character.
In an election year where many people had to wrestle with their conscience at the voting booth, Desmond Doss is living proof that you can obey your conscience and remain loyal to it through thick and thin.  Is it incredibly difficult to do so?  Absolutely.  Is it impossible?  No.  Desmond Doss is a witness to standing your ground and not being shaken when the storm comes.

The Misses
Okay, there’s one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed: There’s a scene in the climax where Desmond actually KICKS a grenade away from a fellow soldier.  Yeah…that’s stretching it a bit thin, don’t you think?  Look, I already know he’s a hero; you don’t need to have him roundhouse-kick a grenade to further prove that.
Admittedly, parts of the story are cliché.  There is a “rogue little guy versus big bad establishment” undertone of the film, but that’s to be expected given the nature of the story.  They try to make a villain out of Luke Bracey’s character Smitty Riker, but from his very first scene you already know what his character arch is going to be; he doesn’t like Desmond, then he really doesn’t like Desmond.  Desmond saves Smitty, Smitty is (emotionally) disarmed and the two become friends.  That’s not a spoiler, by the way; it’s just really predictable.

Guys and gals, I really hope that Hacksaw Ridge gets nominated for something, anything, because this is a powerful movie.  This is one of the few movies where I found myself admiring the main character.  What we have is the portrait of a hero who focused his energy on saving lives, even if it meant getting Hell from his superiors for his stance.  With a respectful performance from Andrew Garfield, excellent direction from Mel Gibson and an emphasis on standing your ground even if it means standing alone, Hacksaw Ridge shows us what a hero looks like.

Saint Martin of Tours, pray for us.

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Rest in Peace and thank you for your service, Desmond Doss (1919-2006)

CGB Review of The Imitation Game

Within minutes after I pressed play on the DVD menu, the film opens with an assertive narration from Alan Turing:
“Are you paying attention?  Good.  If you are not listening carefully, you will miss things. Important things.  I will not pause, I will not repeat myself, and you will not interrupt me.  You think that because you’re sitting where you are, and I am sitting where I am, that you are in control of what is about to happen.  You’re mistaken.  I am in control, because I know things that you do not know.”
Mr. Turing, I’m all ears.

This is my review of The Imitation Game!

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The Imitation Game is the true story of Alan Turing, a mathematician, cryptanalyst and eventual war hero who broke the unbreakable war codes of Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine.
So this was the highest grossing independent film of 2014 and frankly, all of that money is well deserved because this is an excellent film.  I have nothing bad to say about this movie, so here is everything right with the Imitation Game!

I want that soundtrack!  The musical score is haunting and hypnotic.  Heck, I can still hear it in my head hours after the credits roll.  In fact, I’m listening to it on YouTube as I write out this review (it’s playing on my tablet).  It’s the kind of music that I would want to listen to while walking at the park or jogging around my neighborhood.
Like Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch is mesmerizing as Alan Turing.  This is a man who is lost in his own head, expressing himself through codes and calculations.  An antisocial and off-putting man who is never intentionally hurtful, machines and mathematics are his true love, making more sense to him than the emotional responses of others.  His ideas are so complex that not even people who are as smart as him have any clue as to what he’s talking about.  This prevents the clichéd “he’s a misunderstood dreamer and everyone else is a jerk who doesn’t get him” trope.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s thoughtful performance portrays Alan Turing as someone I would want as a teacher or a mentor.
Keira Knightly is wonderful as Joan Clarke, who shares a chaste, emotional connection with him.   Alan and Joan never touch in a sexual way, yet their souls speak to each other through their intellect.  Their last scene together is heartbreaking as we see these two bright people allow themselves to be vulnerable and emotionally-naked with each other.
Ever since I reviewed Right to Believe, I always pay close attention to the portrayal of a homosexual character; is it sensationalized or handled with tact and grace?  Does it define the character or is it only an aspect of a three-dimensional protagonist?  Is the LGBT character written as a human being or an agenda pawn?  By this litmus test, the Imitation Game passes the class with flying colors.  His homosexuality is a subplot and never consumes the story.  In fact, for a while, I thought Alan Turing was asexual (someone who does not experience sexual attraction; different from celibacy.  http://www.asexuality.org/home/?q=overview.html )  I like how the subject of homosexual men marrying women is treated as the complex matter that it is; neither Alan nor his fiancée Joan is vilified.  He deeply cares for her, but feels conflicted; she genuinely loves him as her closest friend, but societal norms mandate her to be married.
Overall the film gives us a sense of what it’s like to be Alan Turing; the script is so intimate with the main character that it’s like the director and/or screenwriter personally knew Turing.  Like Amelie and American Sniper, the Imitation Game knows its protagonist and wants you to know him, as well.  This is a humanistic film that tells the story of a brilliant man who was forced to hide his sexuality from the very world he was trying to save.

SPOILER CORNER!!!!  IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE IMITATION GAME YET, SKIP THIS SEGMENT!!!
The ending got to me.  I was disgusted at the way the British government treated him after he was arrested for gross indecency, for just being a homosexual.  He was given two options: Two years in prison or chemical castration.  He chose castration so that he could continue working.
I mentioned Alan and Joan’s last scene together, which comes at the end before the text comes on-screen revealing Alan’s suicide.  I bring it up because this is the scene that moved me the most.  Alan tells Joan that he continues the government’s hormonal treatment so that he can keep Christopher, the machine that broke Nazi Germany’s Enigma.  “If I don’t continue, they’ll take Christopher away from me and I’ll be alone,” he bursts into tears, “…and I don’t want to be alone.”  Joan comforts him and suggests he do a crossword puzzle, his favorite hobby.  When he struggles to lift the pencil and says, “I’ll do it later,” that’s when I knew it was over for him.
Once the end text reveals that he killed himself at the age of 41, I started crying.  To be driven to such despair is always a tragedy, but to do the courageous act of defeating Nazi Germany’s war machine and then be repaid with cruelty is equally tragic.

Saint Edith Stein/Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us.