WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.
The controversial director Mel Gibson returns to the big screen after a 10 year break since Apocalypto with Hacksaw Ridge. Now I wasn’t one of the people who really loved the film as much as I have with Apocalypto or Passion of the Christ, but there was no denying this was quality film making. This is the kind of film that should have been released in the 1990’s, when this light-hearted filmmaking would have been clearing all the awards. The film follows the story of Desmond Doss a conscientious objector in World War 2. Playing Desmond is Andrew Garfield in another performance as a religious figure. A few weeks back I saw him play a Padre in Martin Scorsese’s Silence and after giving a great performance in that he shines again here as Desmond.
For the first half of the movie you are given no action and instead the film builds on Desmond’s character around his home life. This becomes an interesting choice as it draws the viewer into the world of its protagonist. The film plays out this darker tone but Desmond’s comical character brings some humour into this opening. Being set in Virginia a place far from the effects of World War 2 you got to see this ideal American life during a period of the nuclear family after World War 1. This happy-go-lucky atmosphere plays out well during this first half but it seeps into the more brutal second half because it can’t seem to shake off its melodrama. When the film moves to the Boot Camp you see a more interesting side of Desmond as you see the joy and optimism in his character break down. These scenes in the boot camp were interesting but at the same time it mirrored the film’s safe theme. It feels like Full Metal Jacket but comes across very PG, the film never takes the risks and it feels like I was watching a Clint Eastwood film. The script is intact and carefully structured around the story but it sticks to its guidelines and never breaks the rules. During this first half a few of the supporting performances surprised me such as, Hugo Weaving as Desmond’s alcoholic father and Vince Vaughn as a drill sergeant. Creating good characters around Desmond enhanced his character development as the audience starts to understand the world around their protagonist.
When the film’s action finally sets off the film beautifully recreates the battle on Hacksaw Ridge. Realism is something Mel Gibson always strives to achieve, from the torture scenes of Passion of the Christ to his creation of Apocalypto’s universe. Hacksaw Ridge is another extremely violent but realistic depiction of war. This battle sequence reminded me of the first time I saw Saving Private Ryan as it wasn’t only the visual violence but also the sharp sonic audio mixing, making you feel the impact of every bullet and explosion. Bloodied bodies scattered the war zone and you could almost smell the flesh as Desmond hid amongst the dead. This became the films strongest point and even the battle choreography flowed seamlessly from such a light opening half of the film. The film never dragged and the structure created during the battle made Hacksaw Ridge excitng yet tense at the same time. However, this was a happy-go-lucky story, this was the story of a war hero and making a story on this topic always falls into a cheesy patriotic theme. This was also a story about religion and a mans faith carrying him through which can also become hard for all audiences to relate to. The darkest battles stayed in the correct tone but the rest of the film played it too safe. There was never a sense of dread and I couldn’t thoroughly call this one of 2016’s best films after such a lack luster opening. Yet its battles became one of the best ive seen in War cinema and it was full of amazing performances from the whole cast. Hacksaw Ridge becomes the esscense of classic Hollywood filmmaking but its never edgier and it doesnt bring something new to the table like Mel Gibson’s films usually do, so although this was a film of high quality I was still left dissapointed.
Final Verdict – 8.0