Review: Breathe

Andy Serkis’ debut film is a charming and uplifting real life tale

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Andy Serkis is renowned for his acting in films such as The Lord of the Rings and King Kong but he takes a step back with Breathe. His first directorial effort, it is starkly contrasted with the performance capture heavy films he has previously been involved with. Regardless this is a very impressive debut and shows Serkis has plenty more to offer.

Serkis delves into polio for second time after his role as Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Now behind the camera, he tells the incredible true story of the man who sparked a change in the way the disabled were treated, from prisoners to the free. Andrew Garfield plays that man, Robin, an ever-jolly 28 year old seemingly has it all; a beautiful wife in Diana (Claire Foy), a child on the way, a great job in the thriving African tea business and a large social circle.

His life is turned upside down when, whilst working in Kenya, he contracts Polio, a disease all but wiped out in the Western World two years prior with the widespread use of Jonas Salk’s remarkable vaccine. Polio, for those unaware, paralyses the body from the neck down, with sufferers unable to breathe without apparatus. Garfield channels an entire body’s acting through just his head in a marvellous portrayal with Robin’s real life wife noting that he ‘even had the twinkle in his eye’.

The first act takes us on a breakneck journey, introducing us to Robin and every character and event that will influence the remaining runtime of the film. This furious pace inhibits the emotional connection with Robin’s suffering, the scenes showing his depression and wishing for death initially after he receives the disease should tug at the heartstrings but if it wasn’t for Garfield’s performance, the scene would have fallen entirely flat.

Thankfully the pace slows to a cantor from here on in. Diana, refusing to let her husband die locked away from the world, decides to break him out, much to the fury of the doctor who shouts he’ll ‘be dead in two weeks!’ With the effort of a merry band of friends Robin moves to an idyllic country house where he can enjoy the peace of the country, except for the ever-present wheeze of his respirator.

All the while the risk of suffocating is mere minutes away, shown when their yappy dog knocks the plug from the socket. Robin tries to shout for help but without air in his lungs nothing comes out. He can hear Diana in the next room with their son saying ‘Where’s Daddy?’ while he suffocated unbeknownst to her. When she finally enters the room and sees, horrified, an unconscious Robin, she plugs the ventilator back in and after a nervous few seconds he springs back to life. Garfield is sublime in this scene, the increasing desperation in his eyes with every moment that passes is haunting.

Now settled in the country, Robin decides he wants to travel freely, not tied to an extension cord, and here lies the point of massive historical significance. An entrepreneurial friend designs and builds what is essentially a wheel chair featuring a mobile, battery powered respirating unit. This contraption allows Robin to live a free life, to go where he wants to go.

There is a heartwarming scene where Robin, Diana, their adult son and friends travel to Spain. The respirator’s electrics are fried whilst driving down a rural country road and they have to take turns hand operating a smaller respirator while the original maker flies to fix it. During the wait a mass of locals come and by the time he arrives there is music playing, people dancing and an all round jolly time. Not one of them was scared of Robin’s appearance, if anything they liked him more.

Before the invention of the mobile wheelchair, people with disabilities were locked away in hospitals with an ‘out of sight, out of mind approach’. Polio will never allow you to live a full live, but because of Robin Cavendish and his determined wife Diana sufferers could live a happy life. Serkis captures the magic and charm of Robin’s extraordinary life, a life he well and truly lived.

Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge represents Mel Gibson’s triumphant return to directing after a decade away from the chair

Ten years after the release of the critically acclaimed Apocalypto, Mel Gibson reaffirms his position as a top director in explosive fashion with his latest picture, Hacksaw Ridge. Exploring the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, a self-proclaimed ‘conscientious collaborator’, as he wrestles with both his religious beliefs and his comrades, who view those beliefs as cowardice.

The title of the feature originates from an important tactical location, nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge during the Battle of Okinawa. This is where the majority of combat scenes take place. Before any action begins, we are informed of multiple failed attempts to take the ridge, each time getting pushed back by the relentless Japanese army. Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) regards Hacksaw as the key to winning the war: ‘We take Hacksaw, we get Okinawa. We get Okinawa, we take Japan.’

Interestingly, the tone shifts dramatically and instantaneously when they arrive on Okinawa. There are certain parallels that can be drawn between this and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. For instance both have two very distinct halves. The first, a pre war training segment where we see the protagonist battle with his will, and the second, with the characters thrown into the heart of battle. Gibson’s work however employs a melodramatic style throughout the film’s opening, presenting life as almost idyllic. An unfaltering love story hindered only by his veteran father, who drowns his sorrow in alcohol to the detriment of his family, played fantastically by Hugo Weaving.

On the topic of acting, there were a slew of surprisingly convincing performances. Andrew Garfield, in his second and his best religious lead of 2017, seems to have ditched the Spider-Man typecasting with this Oscar nominated display. By far the most unexpected revelation though was Vince Vaughn as the initially hostile but ultimately compassionate Sergeant Howell. Perhaps the most memorable scene involves Vaughn’s character assessing the new recruits at the barracks. Using the wit reminiscent of some of his previous comedic roles such as Wedding Crashers and Dodgeball, he attempts to break them down through well-aimed character abuse.

Several times throughout the film, Gibson, like in his other films, fetishises violence. Being by far the worst offender of his catalogue, once the war begins, the slaughter is never far behind. The camera always lingers just a moment too long on the destruction, sadistically teasing the audience, even the eruption of flames from the flamethrower is alluring. This exaggerated romanticism contradicts the anti-war message the film otherwise overwhelmingly attempts to convey.

Hacksaw Ridge adopts traits common to vintage war films juxtaposed with modern special effects for the gory detail. It ends by showing interviews from Doss and those he saved, a poignant reminder that this is a true story, and the atrocities we see on-screen affected real people who fought and lost their lives to protect ours.

Review: Silence

A leap of faith that doesn’t pay off

Seldom has a movie relied on the individual perspective of its audience more than Martin Scorsese’s latest release, Silence. This is a punishing film, both mentally (in the depictions of will-breaking torture) and physically — with an exhaustive 161 minute runtime. Perhaps my lack of faith prevents an emotional connection or perhaps it was intended as an extension of the on-screen trials, testing the limits of the most diehard Scorsese fans. What can be certain is that the film is a leap of faith, and one that very few will make. Silence is the third in a series of religious features made by Scorsese following The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Set initially and briefly in 1630’s Portugal, it tells the story of two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) and their journey to locate their mentor (Liam Neeson) after his alleged apostasy. They decide to travel to Japan, a country where Christianity is outlawed, armed with nothing more than religious talismans and the clothes on their backs. A test of faith? Or an example of the naivety of youth? The movie’s imperfections are wholly distracting from potential immersion in the story. For example the three lead actors, of Canadian, American and Irish descent, find huge difficulty in replicating Latin accents. As a result, the most powerful scenes are those without words or without involving them at all. There is also an overly exaggerated sense of purity in the mission of the priests. The word of God must be spread throughout Japan, no matter how many must be tortured or killed in their name. That being said, there are plenty of positives to be drawn. Scorsese teamed up with fantastic cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, having worked previously on The Wolf of Wall Street, and the result is a visually stunning experience. There are plenty of scenes with great camera positioning and the use of overhead camerawork facilitates urgency as the Jesuit priests decide to, and then travel to Japan. Issey Ogata and Tadanobu Asano are both perfectly cast as the Inquisitor and the Interpreter respectively, showing wisdom and charisma far beyond that of their compatriots. The beautiful locations used evoke wonder as they travel throughout Japan. Except it isn’t Japan, it is Taiwan. In a fictional work set in Japan, location of filming isn’t an important factor, however this is a non-fiction historical drama. Regardless of Ang Lee’s recommendations for setting, more respect should be paid to the source material in order to keep it as historically accurate as possible. One cannot deny Scorsese’s deep catalogue of great movies. Sadly though this does not rank among them. He purposefully gives little away throughout the film, leaving you to your emotions but forgetting to evoke any. Silence is certainly not an experience for the masses, instead tailored probably for those who attend mass. Maybe the 25 year gestation period was too long for anything of real substance to survive.