Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Nathaniel Buzolic, Luke Bracey
The biggest challenge facing Hacksaw Ridge isn’t the subject matter or it’s extremely religious content. It’s the man behind the camera. If you look at the film’s poster, you’ll quickly notice that the studio claims it’s from “The acclaimed director of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ” They’re hoping that you forget the fact the Mel Gibson is behind all three of these movies. He is on the roster of celebrities whose personal life affects how their art is received. If you can put his horrible verbal tirades to the side, Hacksaw Ridge is worth taking in. Andrew Garfield leads the cast as Desmond Doss. He’s a peaceful, happy-go-lucky young man despite his surroundings. His father, Tom (Weaving), is a violent alcoholic stemming from his days in combat during World War I. His mother (Griffiths) tries to hold the family together for Desmond and his brother, Harold (Buzolic). Desmond flirts his way into a first date with Army nurse Dorothy Shutte (Palmer). He’s extremely rusty but his charm wins her over. Their budding relationship is tested when he decides to enlist to serve in World War II. Harold had already mentioned that he was going to serve his country, and now Desmond’s announcement rocks his family.
Desmond is the ultimate optimist and is full of strong will. He’s a Seventh Day Adventist, and due to the extreme devotion to his faith, he makes it very clear on his first day at boot camp that he refuses to touch a gun. He plans on being a medic, not someone looking to kill our enemies. It’s a baffling concept for his fellow soldiers, but especially for drill Sergeant Howell (Vaughn). He is persecuted for his beliefs to the point where Captain Glover (Worthington) attempts to get him discharged for not following protocol. Desmond ultimately stays on and joins his fellow soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge in the Battle of Okinawa. He held strong onto his faith and his contributions would go on to win him the Medal of Honor from President Truman.
If you haven’t already guessed by the subject matter, Hacksaw Ridge will be a very divisive film for many reasons. I mentioned Gibson’s personal life earlier and many people will no doubt boycott the film as a way of boycotting what he has done in his past. I do find it odd knowing the words and slurs Gibson has thrown around to go ahead and be known for making two extremely religious films. There’s a contradiction here that I can’t help but take note of for someone of his specific beliefs. The film’s core subject is all about Desmond’s strong belief system. Faith-based films have been growing in Hollywood lately with the release of movies like Heaven is For Real, God’s Not Dead, and Miracle from Heaven. Hacksaw Ridge takes a very different approach, as it isn’t focused on a current day miracle or some wonder kid changing the town’s view on God. Despite Hacksaw’s strong and blatant message, it doesn’t feel as gimmicky as some of those others. On the other hand, there will be audience members who will no doubt be turned off by the talk of God and the continual prayer and faith Desmond has to keep him going to save his soldiers in combat.
As a director, Mel Gibson is back to what he does best as he has not only starred in war films (We Were Soldiers, The Patriot), but he has also gone on to win two Oscars for Braveheart. There is a brutally honest aspect about Gibson that shows he isn’t willing to downplay the horrors of what our soldiers went through. Gibson and cinematographer Simon Duggan put the audience in the thick of the action in a way that hasn’t happened since Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. If you ever thought Hollywood glamorized or softened the blow of what happens to our soldiers, this will open your eyes to the relentless and all-too real situations at hand. There are repeated moments where they show dismembered limbs, blown off bodies, and bullets ripping through the men at high speeds. There is one scene where a soldier takes a blown off torso and uses it as a shield to gain further ground. The blood usage should be noted for any audience member with a queasy stomach. Many veterans have said that Saving Private Ryan was too hard for them to watch. I assume Hacksaw Ridge will have same effect.
Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) gives another an admirable performance. He’s going into the fall movie season with two strong contenders with this film and the new Martin Scorsese film, Silence. He has the noble determination as Desmond the soldier. He also has the charm needed in the first section of the film, as he’s just so plucky in his attempt at wooing Teresa Palmer as the nurse. There’s wonderful chemistry between them, which was lacking in Palmer’s film The Choice that came out earlier this year. Having this part of the story open the film makes it all the more heartbreaking when he abruptly leaves to enlist. Gibson also gets a surprise turn from Vince Vaughn. I did a double take when he pops up as Doss’s strict drill sergeant. He is by no means playing it Full Metal Jacket style, but it’s a good dramatic role for him while allowing us to laugh at some of his outrageous commentary toward the other soldiers.
The film is the perfect material for someone like Gibson to make his entry back into Hollywood with the hope that moviegoers can focus in on the story. He pulls no punches in how graphic he allows the film to get, but that’s the truth behind World War II. He brings out a different viewpoint on how we think of soldiers. In some war films, soldiers are thought of as killing machines who get a high out of taking down our enemy. Desmond Doss is the opposite. He had great strength, determination, and faith to help his country outside of picking up a rifle. It’s an inspirational epic that reminds us of what many of our grandparents went through who served in WWII. Hacksaw Ridge is very much a religious film. If that doesn’t bother you, it will no doubt be a powerful and moving piece and great reminder of the films Mel Gibson can make.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? One of the most powerful, yet inspirational, war films since Saving Private Ryan
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS