Reviews

Movie reviews: Andrew Garfield's moving portrayal of a soldier without weapons elevates Hacksaw Ridge

Life's most disquieting moments come to the fore in Hacksaw Ridge, Split and The Light Between Oceans

Hacksaw Ridge (M18, 139 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars) is the bloodiest tribute to pacifism put on film yet.

It tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a patriot who aches to take part in World War II, but without compromising his Seventh-day Adventist beliefs - he will walk into battle unarmed.

But even a combat medic like him has to undergo weapons training and his refusal to bear arms infuriates his commanders such as Captain Glover (Sam Worthington). Beatings from his platoon mates, who see him as a shirker, fail to change his mind.

In the hellscape that is the Battle Of Okinawa, Doss proves that exceptional courage can live inside the unlikeliest of forms.

Andrew Garfield plays a soldier who refuses to bear arms in Hacksaw Ridge.
Andrew Garfield plays a soldier who refuses to bear arms in Hacksaw Ridge. PHOTO: WALT DISNEY COMPANY

Director Mel Gibson is a religious man who thinks that faith finds its purest, most poignant expression during the mortification of the flesh - see his 2004 movie, The Passion Of The Christ - so it makes sense that Doss' story has appeal for him.

This film does not earn its M18 rating for nothing - the battle scenes feature the goriest, most anatomically correct scenes of carnage seen outside the horror genre.

To Gibson's credit, the right to display the bloodshed is earned, even if it is a little too on-the-nose - a more artful director might portray the impact of artillery shells without drowning the set in a wave of crimson guts; it becomes numbing.

But Gibson's work would be for nought if not for Garfield's moving portrayal of Doss as a man who abides by principles more enduring than those set by the United States Army.

Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander in The Light Between Oceans; and Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy (both above) in Split.
Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy (both above) in Split. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

There is horror of a different kind in Split (PG13, 118 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars).

Here, the protagonist also has a different take on the world - several different ones, to be exact.

James McAvoy plays a man whose mind is inhabited by 24 personalities. He imprisons three teenage girls in his basement for reasons that terrify a few of his various identities. One of the prisoners, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), realises they cannot escape through brute force - they must use cunning.

The premise of M. Night Shyamalan's latest work follows his usual format: Victims use rational puzzle-solving to survive an environment that is hostile and creepily irrational.

There is stuff about Casey's backstory that feels like it was added for the sake of atmosphere, but everything hangs together - barely - because of McAvoy's portrayal of the deranged captor, Dennis (and Patricia. And Hedwig. And Kevin).

The Scottish actor is scary whether he is channelling a mentally disabled boy or a high-strung woman.

Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander (both above) in The Light Between Oceans; and Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy in Split.
Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander (both above) in The Light Between Oceans. PHOTO: UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

The Light Between Oceans (PG, 132 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars) is a prettily shot piece about the contracts that bind people in a community.

Nothing says lonely like a lighthouse off the coast of Western Australia and that is where Tom (Michael Fassbender) takes up a career after enduring the horrors of the Great War.

He wants to have as little to do with others as possible, but after he marries Isabel (Alicia Vikander), he has lost that choice.

Their idyllic existence on Janus Island is marred by her sense of acute loneliness. A baby washes up in a lifeboat, placing in their hands not just a human life, but also a moral dilemma.

Shades of Thomas Hardy indeed, when the consequences of their decision come to visit.

Director Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond The Pines, 2012; Blue Valentine, 2010) knows how to imbue even the most carefree scenes with a sense of disquiet - a reckoning with the rest of humanity is always there, tugging at one's sleeve, patiently waiting.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Horror is everywhere'. Print Edition | Subscribe