“Hacksaw Ridge” is the true story of World War II Army medic Desmond Doss, a pacifist who refuses to bear arms despite enlisting in the military and being thrown into the belly of the Pacific Theater. Andrew Garfield portrays Doss as Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving and Vince Vaughn co-star with Mel Gibson directing.
Gibson is a talented director, although no one has ever accused him of being subtle. He last directed 2006’s “Apocalypto” (an underrated gem) and is best known for directing “Braveheart” (an overrated flick, don’t @ me). “Hacksaw Ridge” puts the best and the worst of Gibson on display (to varying degrees), with two halves featuring conflicting tones and pacing, but powerful messages and impactful violence that make for one of the most moving films of the year.
Andrew Garfield is best known for starring in the failed “Amazing Spider-Man” reboot, but his best performances have come in “The Social Network” and “99 Homes” (which if you haven’t seen I implore you to check it out; one of 2015’s best). He is a great “young” talent (I put young in quotes because he’s 33 years old, despite looking 23) and after this and Martin Scorsese’s upcoming “Silence” he should finally get the award attention he deserves.
Garfield’s Doss is a soft-spoken Southerner who is strong in his convictions to not pick up a weapon, and we fully buy into his reasoning. The film isn’t overly preachy about its Christian-based backing, but it does make you see why Doss truly would rather be court-martialed and go to prison than even practice firing a gun.
What really is surprising and pleasant to see, however, are the performances from the supporting cast, many of whom we are not used to seeing in dramatic roles. Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey and Vince Vaughn all fit their roles perfectly as the doubting Captain, bully solider and yelling, dark-humored drill Sergeant, respectively. Vaughn is a little jarring when he first walks on screen (visions of “True Detective” flashed before my eyes) but he carries his own and has a few funny insults that he yells at the new recruits.
Per classic Gibson, the film is brutally accurate in its depiction of war. Especially since this is Okinawa, where things did not go easy-breezy for the Americans, there is a lot of blood and loss of life in this film, and those with weak stomachs need not apply. But it is a necessary evil, as it only begins to display the horrors of war that Doss and his men endured, but after a while things do grow a tad repetitive.
Which brings me to my central gripe about the film and that’s that it can grow a tad monotonous. The first half is filled with constant instances of Doss refusing to fire a gun and getting punished for it in one way or another; we get it, he won’t kill. The second half is filled with constant instances of gratuitous violence and Doss running men to safety, which as awesome and lump-in-the-throat-inducing as it is, you can’t help but get a sense of emotional manipulation after a while. There is even a cheesy low-angle shot of Doss slowly standing up and putting on his helmet like something out of a Captain America comic.
Teresa Palmer is almost nothing but a plot device and while it is important to give Doss a little bit of backstory, her girlfriend character really doesn’t do much besides add runtime and a bit of romantic comedy relief to the film.
“Hacksaw Ridge” isn’t the war epic is sometimes thinks it is, nor is it as memorable as I’m sure many people were hoping, but in-the-moment there are few that know how to put the power of the human spirit on screen better than Mel Gibson. On an unrelated note, it must’ve been dusty in the theater I was in because by the end of the film I was tearing up from my allergies…
Critics Rating: 7/10