Movie Review: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’


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Plot:  The true story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.  At the Battle of Okinawa during WWII, Doss saved 75 people over a period of three days without once carrying a gun.

 

Review:  It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed since Mel Gibson directed a film.  The Academy Award winning director (Braveheart) and self-admitted alcoholic, experienced a series of very public scandals which I won’t go into here.  Suffice it to say that he was put in timeout for ten years,  despite two excellent performances in Get the Gringo and Blood Father.  But after all this time does the man with the crazy eyes and the even crazier beard still have what it takes?

The answer is an emphatic YES.

Hacksaw Ridge quite simply is the best war film since Saving Private Ryan, and the most moving film I’ve seen this year.  (It literally brought me to tears twice.)  Powerful, cathartic, impeccably directed, and sporting some of the best battle scenes ever put on screen, Hacksaw Ridge harkens back to epic war films like John Wayne’s Sands of Iwo Jima or The Longest Day.  Yet it also echoes themes from movies like The Red Badge of Courage or All Quiet on the Western Front.  Although the violence of war dominates the second half of the film (and believe me the carnage gets quite gruesome at times) the themes of faith, conviction, and morality are no less resonant than the overt battles on Okinawa.

Released mere days before America’s Presidential election, Hacksaw Ridge‘s ideas prove quite timely.  The idea of standing up for  your beliefs even though it may infuriate or confound those around you–there’s something to be said about that.  In a time where there seems to be too few people who have the courage of their convictions, Hacksaw Ridge reminds us that there is true nobility in standing up for what you believe in.

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Doss (Andrew Garfield) struggles mightily.  His deep faith as a Seventh Day Adventist compels him not to commit violence.  A fight with his brother Hal as a child nearly results in Hal’s death.  Later Desmond nearly kills his alcoholic and abusive father Tom with a pistol after Tom attacks Desmond’s Mom.  These experiences only reaffirm Doss’ conviction not to break the sixth commandment.  However, he’s also a man who cannot sit idly by while his fellow-man goes to war.  Consequently he joins the army as a medic but refuses to carry a weapon.

Historically audiences gravitate towards underdogs and Garfield’s Doss is without question an underdog.  Gibson’s direction establishes a distinct emotional connection to Doss.  We watch him suffer beatings at the hands of his fellow recruits who consider him a coward, face the chastising of  his superior officers Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), and stand valiantly for his beliefs at his own court-martial.  This is later reinforced on Hacksaw Ridge as he entreats God, “Lord let me just get one more.”  If  you don’t come away from that scene profoundly affected you better check your wrist for a pulse.

Great athletes like Michael Jordan make average players good, good players great, and great players into superstars.  Great directors are similar in that they are able to bring out the best in their cast.  Mel Gibson manages to do just that  in Hacksaw Ridge.  Vince Vaughn shines in one of the few dramatic roles I’ve ever seen him in.  Sam Worthington, typically a very bland actor in my opinion, manages to convey a sense of gravitas heretofore unseen on screen.  Teresa Palmer entrances as Doss’ love interest.  I could not believe I was seeing the same actress from the forgettable Warm Bodies.  However, of the supporting cast Hugo Weaving was hands down the best, playing Garfield’s father Tom.  Tom is the poster child for PTSD; a bitter abusive drunk who wrestles with survivor’s guilt everyday.  He hates the fact both of his sons enlisted, yet at a crucial moment in the film Tom comes to Desmond’s aid.  Trust me when you watch Weaving the furthest thing from your mind will be Elrond or Agent Smith.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the war sequences here.  They are maybe the most visceral I’ve ever seen–limbs, spurting blood, decapitations; you name it it’s here.  People often berate Gibson for having a morbid obsession with violence.  I’ll never understand the people who criticize Gibson yet in the same breath will praise David Cronenberg, an equally violent director, if not more so than Gibson.  Granted Gibson’s films like Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, and now Hacksaw Ridge are overtly violent, but I think no more than they should be.  The violence in Hacksaw Ridge is by no means gratuitous.  Rather it is a stark representation of the horrors of war, rivaling the D-Day invasion scenes from Saving Private Ryan.

The ancillary aspects of Hacksaw Ridge only add to the grandeur of the film.  Simon Duggan’s cinematography is sure to gain him an Oscar nomination.  Ditto John Gilbert’s editing.  And Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score ranges the gamut from subtle to heroic.  It truly fleshes out the film as a whole.

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However, the true anchor of Hacksaw Ridge is unquestionably Andrew Garfield.  Once again Garfield puts in another outstanding performance.  With superb previous turns in The Social Network and 99 Homes, you can now add Hacksaw Ridge to Garfield’s impressive resume.  I honestly can’t see another actor taking on this role.  And with Garfield starring in Scorsese’s Silence coming out later this year, I’m sure audiences have another stellar performance in store.

My measuring stick for any great movie has always been and continues to be whether or not I’m still thinking about it days later.  I saw Hacksaw Ridge on Friday and I’ll probably still be thinking about it later this week.  It’s that powerful, it’s that memorable, it’s that damn GOOD.

In an era where dark and grim seem to be the motifs that Hollywood basks in, Hacksaw Ridge is a breath of fresh air.  It’s a reminder that honor, conviction, faith, and determination are not just words in a dictionary.  For some people they are definitions writ on their very souls.

 

My rating:  9/10

Would I:  A) Buy this movie B) Accept as a gift C) Burn on site   Answer: A

You can follow me on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1 or check out my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/flicktasticmovies/ for all the latest movie and geek information.

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