Hacksaw Ridge

Let’s address the Mel thing straight away – I don’t care that another indulged white man went off the rails and is now seeking redemption. His struggle with his demons is just another means of validating his original offences. But there is an argument that all art deserves to be judged independently of its creator. This stance is not as straightforward as it seems – it depends on the nature of the crime, the value of the art and the individual viewer. For instance, the crimes of Lost Prophets singer Ian Watkins are so disturbing that I would imagine it is impossible to listen to their work now (I never did in the first place). But I can watch Chinatown and divorce that from Roman Polanski being a creep, but I would understand if others couldn’t.

So with Gibson the value is with whether the combination of his history and our reaction to it, helps make his work more interesting. There was a sign of this with last year’s Blood Father which played with Gibson’s alcoholic and racist past to establish a bit more depth to the redemption thriller. With Hacksaw Ridge it is less to the fore, but in this tale of the conscientious objector who saves 75 US marines on one night, there are key themes that riff on this combination. A confrontation with the consequences of his violent upbringing, combined with strong religious conviction leads Andrew Garfield’s Desmond Doss to take his principled stance. The build up and violent, realistic war scenes will be familiar enough to viewers of Band of Brothers and The Pacific. It’s hard not to be moved by Doss’s persistence and the finale is suitably moving and ennobling.

But the real interest in the film is pitching this non-violence, alternative take on heroism into the current US political climate. If we think the reaction against Doss’s stance lacks understanding in the 40s, then it would be vitriolic from Trump supporters. If the message we can take from Hacksaw Ridge is that sticking to core values will be recognised in the end, then from education to law, that will resonate with those suffering under the current administration. This is made more intriguing by Gibson being the bearer of the message. And apart from all that, it’s a cracking war film.

Anthropoid

This is a worthy war film, recounting the story of the assassination plot on SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect behind the Final Solution, the “Butcher of Prague”. It’s realistic, firmly plotted and well acted, with all the ingredients of an old-fashioned war movie – the noble hero, love in the time of conflict, the coward and pretty straight up Nazis we can all hate (well, I say, all, but no doubt some magazines will run nice features on how well they dress).

What is really at the core of the film however are the moral dilemmas inherent in taking action. Assuming it is right to assassinate Heydrich, is it still worth it when you know someone else will take his place? What is the actual impact of this action? This is complicated when the effect on the lives of those who help the plotters is considered, and those of their families. And then is it still moral to continue when the Nazis threaten to execute 30,000 innocent people?

The film explores these dilemmas carefully, but without detracting from the main action. In so many movies the noble self sacrifice is foregrounded, but this is relatively easy to make. What fascist regimes rely on is the preventative measure of executing others. This is a very efficient technique – with one action it prevents further insurrection, makes cooperation unlikely, and increases mistrust. It shifts the moral dilemma from the oppressor to the resistance, and they are the sort of people who are likely to be bothered by a conscience. That’s why they’re not part of the oppressor’s machinery to start with.

Trump? I didn’t say Trump. Why would you even raise that?