Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey
WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Garfield), 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. (Source: IMDb)
Whatever your thoughts are on Mel Gibson’s misdemeanours (and believe me I have many!), Hacksaw Ridge marks the first time he is back in the director’s chair since 2006’s Apocalypto, so naturally there is a great deal of hype and expectation for his latest offering. Already garnering some awards buzz, including nominations for best picture and best actor (in the drama subcategory), and best director at the Golden Globes, it seems Gibson is somewhat back in favour. Personally I had to distance myself from the fact this was directed by him to try and review this objectively rather than subjectively.
It is hard to deny that this is an exceptionally well-made film, powerful, emotive, unrelentingly brutal, but also surprisingly beautiful. The horrifically violent scenes of war are exceptionally directed, conveying the true horrors and brutality of war in a no-holds-barred manner in scenes reminiscent of the infamously violent opening scenes in Saving Private Ryan (1998). Hacksaw Ridge very much feels like a film of two halves, and even though the place it ends up is inevitable, the sheer level of violence may catch some a little off-guards, which I suppose is the point of it really.
Whilst arguably giving a better and certainly more diverse performance in Scorsese’s Silence (2017), Andrew Garfield as the heroic Desmond Doss is also exceptional in Hacksaw Ridge. His delivery is a little awkward in the beginning, but again this is seemingly deliberate in establishing the character, but he really comes into his own in the later scenes. With Silence seemingly being snubbed by the big awards so far, it will naturally be Garfield’s performance in Hacksaw Ridge which garners the attention. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it is still a performance which fully deserves some recognition, and both films serve as evidence that Garfield is really coming into his own as an actor and delivering excellent performances.
The supporting cast are a little interchangeable, as is so often the case with war movies and their ensemble casts, but there were a couple of standouts. Surprisingly Vince Vaughn was really excellent, silencing my scepticism about him appearing in this movie! His boot camp scenes inject a much needed dash of humour into the otherwise dramatic narrative, and were one of the real highlights of the film. Although not in it much in the latter half, Hugo Weaving also delivers an excellent performance as Desmond’s father, bringing some gravitas to a somewhat unlikable character.
Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is beautiful as well, and considering his previous composer credits include films such as The Ridiculous 6 (2015), Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 (2015), and Jack and Jill (2011), it is even more surprising how wonderful it is!
The dialogue, particularly in the first half of the film, was exceptionally corny, and indeed the first half of the film really failed to grab my interest. It picked up from the training camp scenes and onwards, but personally I felt the relationship between Garfield’s Doss and Palmer’s Dorothy, was a little stilted and lacking in chemistry. Their relationship ended up not being too impactful on the rest of the story, and whilst his faith was ultimately his main driving force, it would have been good to have felt the believability of their relationship, adding more weight to Doss’ motivations and desire to make it back alive.
Religion is one of the central themes of the film, but there were times when the symbolism felt a little on the nose. The final scene involving Garfield in particular looked and felt incredibly cheesy and cliche, and was a little out of place with everything else that had preceded it.
I saw this movie and you should too. This isn’t an easy movie to watch, nor is it a particularly enjoyable one or one which I would care to repeat, but it is an exceptionally well-made film with an unparalleled emotive core, and the most brutal battle scenes you’re likely to see in a while. It is worth going into this film with a warning if you’re rather on the squeamish side or if you have a nervous disposition in any way, it is very intense, and never shies away from the horrors of war. Gibson will never really redeem himself (not for me anyway!), but it is good to see a film which is very much a return to form, and I don’t doubt we’ll be seeing plenty of this film at the forthcoming Oscars. Hacksaw Ridge is brutal, bloody, beautiful, and really quite brilliant!