‘Fighting with My Family’ Review

Director: Stephen Merchant

Writer: Stephen Merchant

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Nick Frost, Lena Headey and Dwayne Johnson

Synopsis: A former wrestler and his family make a living performing at small venues around the country while his kids dream of joining World Wrestling Entertainment

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the true story of WWE superstar Paige, real name Saraya-Jade Bevis, Stephen Merchant and producer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson took inspiration from Paige’s real life and the documentary series about Paige’s family to make Fighting with My Family. Being a wrestling nerd myself, I have been looking forward to this since it was announced, and hearing the good word of mouth, I was fully ready to really enjoy the film. That said, whether or not you know Paige’s story or not, you’ll walk out appreciating the journey.

The film follows Saraya (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) Knight who have been training as professional wrestlers since they were kids by their wrestling parents Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey). Their dream? Going to the WWE, and eventually they get a call to try-out for them, and head to WWE’s developmental program, NXT. However, when Saraya is chosen over Zak, Saraya goes to Orlando to begin her training and Zak has to stay behind to figure out what do now that his dream can no longer be achieved. Paige’s underdog story then begins through trials and tribulations.

Fighting with My Family has your basic underdog sports formula we’ve seen before, expect this time it’s done through pro wrestling. Paige wrestles – pun intended – with being different around the other potential contenders, dealing with the drama with her brother and eventually reaching the dream she wanted in the grandest way possible. This isn’t necessarily a negative toward the film, considering it is what you expect in this kind of story, but it is just a bit of a shame that Merchant went the formulaic route.

That goes double considering Paige’s story is much more than what we get onscreen. Again, being a wrestling nerd and knowing her story, it was a shame to see some things taken out or completely ignored. Of course, that’s not to say that everything in the movie is a lie. It is still Saraya’s story, but having her just be dropped into the crazy world of the WWE is far from what happened.

Regardless of all that, Fighting with My Family is still very good, and most of that comes from the cast. Merchant puts the weight of the movie squarely on Pugh’s shoulders and she carries it with ease. She’s able to bring everything the story requires from the drama, to the humor to even some for the ring work she was allowed to do. Jack Lowden as Zak is equally great, and the chemistry he and Pugh have is fantastic, and makes the two easily believable and easy to root for that we become almost immediately invested in both of their journeys.

Supporting role wise, I wish we had seen a little more of both Nick Frost and Lena Headey. They’re in it enough for the story the film is trying to tell, but still having those two in your movie, and not having them in it a little more is a bit of a bummer. Vince Vaughn’s Hutch Morgan – a combination of different people like Norman Smiley, Dr. Tom Prichard and Bill DeMott, at least according to Paige – balances the line between a hard-nosed, nonsense coach and giving Saraya enough to motivate her, but still being a hardass. Finally, for those worried that Dwayne Johnson would overtake the film, don’t worry, he’s only in about three or four scenes, and we’ve seen most of them in the trailers and TV ads.

All in all, Fighting with My Family is an underdog story we’ve seen before but in a different sport that most people have either fallen out of love with or still follow to this day. That said, Stephen Merchant’s direction and balance of drama and humor is spot on, plus the cast keep you invested from start to finish.

Fighting with My Family

3.5 out of 5

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Review

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Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffths, and Vince Vaughn

Synopsis: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Directed by Mel Gibson, his first since Apocalypto in 2006, Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of a real-life hero during World War II in Desmond Doss, whose story I’ve personally never heard of, and it’s unbelievable that his story isn’t told more. The film isn’t a full look into Doss’ life, nor is it his full time in the war, but only a small part during the Battle of Hacksaw Ridge. Gibson himself said that he took some liberties with some parts of the battle and didn’t including everything because he thought some audiences wouldn’t believe it, which if and when you watch the film, it hard to believe that Doss did even more than what was shown.

Hacksaw Ridge follows Desmond Doss (Garfield), a religious man who is the son of a World War I vet, Tom (Weaving), who decides to enlist into the army to be a medic and help save his fellow soldiers. However, his beliefs of not picking up a gun puts him into a headstrong battle with his military superiors and fellow soldiers, who see him as a coward, and after getting through a Court Marshall hearing, is sent into war without a weapon to defend himself with, becoming a Conscientious Objector. What follows is an incredible heroic story of what Doss was able to do and how many lives he saved during that horrific battle.

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Doss’ life is certainly one that will make you question his beliefs, which is reasonable and it’s something that Gibson doesn’t shy too much away from, especially at the time this film takes place. However, Gibson and Andrew Garfield’s performance do bring humanity and reason to Doss’ beliefs, and his convictions keeps us invest throughout the film. We almost have no choice but to root for him, especially when the army tries to punish him.

His heroism is put on full display during the war scenes. Of course, we know that Gibson can direct war battles, and this was a real event were many men lost their lives, so walking in we already knew that this was going to be brutal to watch – and it was. The constant bombs going off with bullets whizzing by makes you feel that sometimes you’re running with the men on Hacksaw Ridge. The battle sequences are brutal, but not as brutal as Gibson’s other films, especially since the film relies a bit of CGI for some scenes – you can’t go blowing people’s face off now can you?

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Despite this being a war film, the film is carried and driven by the performances. Garfield is terrific as Doss, playing him at first as the off-beat character from Virginia, so harrowing hero in the midst of death surrounding him. Teresa Palmer plays his future wife, Dorothy, who brings levity to the film, but once Doss goes to the war, she is never seen again, which is kind of a shame but makes sense. Luke Bracey’s Smitty Ryker is one of the antagonistic soldiers to Doss, but has a great scene with Doss near the middle of the film that makes you forget he was in the Point Break remake.

Vince Vaughn pops in as Sgt. Howell, and while it is a little hard to believe him as an army sergeant at first, but Vaughn plays the role well enough. Sam Worthington play Captain Glover, who leads the charge to get Doss to quit the army. Worthington has been great since taking a break from mainstream big studio films, and he continues the trend here. Hugo Weaving as Doss’ father, Tom, has a great arc in the film and even with minimal screen-time he does what he has to do. The rest of the cast do well too, but most of them have only small amounts of screen time and once we get to the battle scenes it’s a bit hard to really recognize them.

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The most important thing about this film is that it doesn’t go straight into the war battles. We really get to know Doss before and after he registers, and see who he is before he’s thrown into war. The film does introduce someone close to Doss’ life that suddenly disappears without reason, and while you can say “that’s a little thing,” when you look at the film with a wider lens, it would have been nice to see that character mentioned or seen again.

All in all, Hacksaw Ridge is a great look into a hero that I don’t think many people knew about. Andrew Garfield brings Desmond Doss to life and shows us the hardship he went through to save others during World War II. Filled with some great action, and some surprising humor, Hacksaw Ridge has me waiting to see what Mel Gibson does next.

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Hacksaw Ridge

4.5 out of 5