Sunday, March 5, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge and Fences...a two movie weekend

I generally try to watch the Oscar nominated movies every year. Not all of them, but most. Don't intend to see La La Land, for example and think I'll pass on Moonlight. But the past couple of nights I've seen Hacksaw Ridge and Fences.

Pam sat on the sofa next to me, prepared to read an e-book while Hacksaw Ridge played. She cannot abide blood and gore, especially the brutal variety that comes with war movies. Since Mel Gibson was directing, she was probably expecting a cross between Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan. But, to her great surprise, she found herself caught up in the story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Sure, she covered her eyes during the battle scenes with her blanket, but she was blown away by the other-worldly heroism, the transformative power of conviction and its ability to enfuse a man with supernatural endurance and bravery. What Desmond Doss accomplished at Okinawa, surviving the hellish landscape of total war savagery, without a weapon, while rescuing 75 men to safety is the sort of thing one still can't quite believe, even after watching him do it. While Gipson's obsession with exploding body parts and blood-squirting arteries was a little over the top, this film wasn't about patriotism, or the glory of war, or any of that. This story was about a conviction and courage that survived the worst that mankind is capable of.

I love Denzel Washington. Always have. I think he's probably the best American actor around today. I'm often disappointed in his choices, however. He's capable of so much more than Flight, The Equalizer, and the laughable Equalizer II. So when I heard all the buzz about Fences, I couldn't resist. Unfortunately, this was one of those pictures that had no business being a movie in the first place. It was written for the stage, and didn't transfer well. If you like nearly two and half hours of boisterous, shouted dialogue and lengthy speechifying, 80% of which takes place in the dump of a back yard of a row house in Pittsburg...then you're gonna LOVE this movie. Although Denzel and Viola Davis were fine in the lead roles, their performances seemed overwrought, overacted, over the top. Does everything have to be shouted? Do stories about the African-American experience contain no subtlety? Does every raw emotion have to be vomited up before us? Can nothing be suggested? As I watched this movie, I kept feeling like the playwrite was channeling Shakespeare, what with Troy's incessant conversations with death, and his King Lear-like estrangement from his children. But, in the end, I just couldn't conjure up any sympathy for Troy. He seemed nothing more than a bitter old tyrant. Maybe if I were African-American myself, it would have resonated more. Or maybe, Fences should have stayed a play...