The major nominations finally got me to trudge grudgingly to see this last night. (In the spirit of being thankful for small favors -- at least it was free.) And, though I tried to go in with an open mind, most of my fears were realized -- I think this is pretty clearly the worst of all the season's award contenders, and I'm fairly horrified it's even gotten as far as it has.
Watching the movie in context of having seen all of those WWII screenplay nominees from the '40's and '50's certainly didn't do it any favors. Because (except for the levels of violence), this movie feels like it could have been made in the era it's set in, and seventy years later, all those same hokey cliches now just come off even cornier. The opening chunk, in particular, is very weak -- same-old same-old portrait of small-town American life, domineering father, beyond bland romance, basic training cliches. Once it gets into dealing with its central dilemma -- Desmond's faith and his desire to serve in the military without holding a rifle -- it becomes a bit more interesting by nature, but of course, Gibson (and his writers) depict all of this in the shallowest terms imaginable. (I wondered what a filmmaker like Eastwood would have done with this story -- you'd have to imagine that that version might have shown Desmond feeling some doubts over the degree to which he's putting himself and his compatriots in danger, and that's the kind of complexity this movie is sorely lacking.)
The last chunk of the movie involves the battle at Hacksaw Ridge, a sequence that honestly had me asking for most its running time, what is the purpose of me watching this? Gibson's love for shock violence is so crass, I didn't find the experience sobering (like, say, the opening of Saving Private Ryan) as much as an assault on the senses. And my god, it goes on so LONG -- at one point, after everyone has made it back down from the ridge, I assumed the sequence had to be over. But nope, the next morning, everyone goes right back up there for more of the same. This portion of the movie didn't elucidate much of anything about anything for me, except the script's reliance on lame cliches -- we are way past the point where "We've got company!" can be used un-ironically in a movie -- and Gibson's need to beatify his protagonist as a Christ figure.
And yet, through all this, I do think the movie has one redeeming element, and that's Andrew Garfield's performance. Not saying this is the kind of role that merits Best Actor nominations -- the vehicle is just too shallow for that. But I think he finds all sorts of interesting grace notes that a less interesting actor wouldn't have, and though the movie is bland, he certainly is not. I think both this and Silence suggest that he has pretty clear potential to be among the best actors of his generation, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what he does in the years up ahead.
I think a Best Picture nomination for this would be pretty ludicrous, but it clearly seems possible. I do have to question whether the Directors' branch of the Academy will go for this, though. The battle at Hacksaw Ridge is certainly a logistically "big" set piece, which I imagine will impress some. But the directors usually don't go for stuff that's this retro -- they're far more likely to pick out someone quirkier for citation based on precedent. I guess the question becomes how strong the Gibson comeback narrative is.