alt text needed

Reel Time | December 2016


Hacksaw Ridge

Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia as a Seventh-day Adventist. His father, Tom (Hugo Weaving), a veteran of World War I, suffers from what we now call PTSD. He often drinks, and he beats his wife, Bertha (Rachel Griffiths).

One day, Doss confronts his father to protect his mother. When he realizes that he nearly killed Tom, Doss turns from violence and vows to God never to touch a gun again.

Doss volunteers as a medic during World War II because, though he is a patriot, he is a conscientious objector. By mistake, he is assigned to a combat unit. At first, the other soldiers welcome Doss, but turn on him because they think he will not protect them. He is court-martialed for refusing to fire a rifle, but is eventually reinstated as a medic. Before they ship out for the Pacific, Doss marries his sweetheart, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer).

Joining the fighting on the island of Okinawa, the men must climb a high escarpment to engage the Japanese army, which is entrenched on the plain above. The fighting is terrible. Doss tends to the wounded, bringing soldier after soldier to the ridge to lower them via ropes to the medics below. Heroism is on full display.

Hacksaw Ridge, based on a true story, inspires and repels at the same time. Garfield’s Doss is innocent, sweet, and brave beyond words. But director Mel Gibson, after a 10-year hiatus from Hollywood, returns with another film depicting such explicit violence that it was almost impossible for me to watch. For all the horror, however, Doss’ goodness shines. Garfield is truly brilliant as Private Doss. An award contender for sure, Hacksaw Ridge is intensely moving, edifying, and devastatingly realistic.

Not yet rated, R ♦ Explicit battlefield violence and gore, peril, partial nudity.



Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a published author and professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta. In 1994, David Irving (Timothy Spall), a pseudo-historian, confronts her at a lecture because she refuses to engage with Holocaust deniers. Because she called him a liar and falsifier of history in one of her books, he sues her and Penguin Books for libel in the United Kingdom.

Lipstadt, who decides not to settle, is dismayed when she finds out that, in the United Kingdom, the burden of proof is on the accused in a civil suit—the exact opposite of US law. Lipstadt’s solicitor, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), tells her the case is not really about her, but about something far greater. The legal team maneuvers to put Irving’s ego and motives on trial instead. The barrister, Richard Rampton (the always solid Tom Wilkinson), argues that Irving’s opinions are motivated by racism. It’s heartbreaking to see footage of how Irving denigrated Holocaust survivors in public.

Lipstadt’s attorneys do not want the survivors or their client to take the stand because Irving will humiliate and victimize them again. Based on Lipstadt’s 2006 memoir, Denial is a brilliant drama in and out of the courtroom.

The ensemble of actors gives compelling, riveting performances.

A-3, PG-13 ♦ Strong language, mature themes.


Rules Don’t Apply

In 1958, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), a young Baptist beauty queen, arrives in Hollywood with her mother, Lucy (Annette Bening). The driver, Methodist Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), explains the rules that the aging studio boss Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) has set down for him: drivers are not to talk to actresses and must be ready at Hughes’ beck and call.

Many rules and value systems intersect and collide in this touching and original romance that was scripted, produced, and directed by Beatty. The film looks at the unwritten expectations for young actresses in Hollywood, bizarre contracts between employees and an employer who has no code, and the role that various churches play in the lives of young people and their families.

Memories of his own life growing up as an evangelical in Virginia inspired Beatty’s script. The search for transcendent meaning underlies the story and provides a moment of deep sadness when the quirky billionaire, who has all the money in the world, realizes that he is alone.

Not yet rated, PG-13 ♦ Sexuality.