Film Review: Hacksaw Ridge (dir by Mel Gibson)


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To be honest, Hacksaw Ridge is probably not the type of film that I would usually watch.  I’m not a huge fan of war movies and the trailer really didn’t inspire much enthusiasm within me.  However, ever since the film was released last Friday, it’s been the subject of some Oscar buzz and … well, you know me and the Oscars.  There’s no easier way to get me to take a chance on a movie than to tell me that it might be nominated for an Oscar.  I’m a completist, after all.  If they’re going to nominate 8 to 10 movies for best picture, you better believe I’m going to make sure that I’ve seen all of them.

So, after voting yesterday, I saw Hacksaw Ridge and all I can say is, “Wow!”  Hacksaw Ridge left me with tears in my eyes and feeling totally exhausted.  This is one of those films that kind of sneaks up on you.  I spent the first half of the film thinking to myself, “Okay, this is good and all but I still don’t see what the big deal is.”  And then suddenly, that second half started and soon, I was totally struggling to catch my breath.

I’ll just say this right now: Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most powerful anti-war films that I’ve ever seen.  It’s also an incredibly violent film, one that will leave non-veterans amazed at the number of ways that soldiers can be shot, stabbed, blown up, and set on fire.  But, despite all the visceral action that plays out across the screen, Hacksaw Ridge never glorifies combat.  It never glamorizes the destructive power of war.  We may be happy when we see a certain soldier somehow manage to survive but we never find ourselves cheering.  Instead, often times, we worry what awaits that soldier after the war.  The combat in Hacksaw Ridge is so brutal and so terrifying that you find yourself wondering not only how anyone could survive but also how anyone could ever go on with “normal” life after seeing the horrors of war.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who served, as a combat medic, in the U.S. Army during World War II.  As a Seventh Day Adventist, Doss both refused to carry a rife and refused to train on the Sabbath.  Despite all the efforts of both his sergeant and his captain to convince Doss to leave the service, Doss stayed in the Army, served in combat despite refusing to carry a rifle, and became the first C.O. to be awarded the Medal of Honor.  In the film, Doss is played by Andrew Garfield, who is one of those extremely talented actors who has been miscast in several films.  Fortunately, he’s perfect for Hacksaw Ridge.  Though his rural accent occasionally slips, Garfield is convincing as both a relatively naive farmboy and a man of such strong convictions that he’s willing to risk being court martialed to uphold them.  If Hacksaw Ridge is about Doss proving himself to his fellow soldiers, it’s also a film about Andrew Garfield, who is still perhaps best known for being awkwardly cast as Spiderman, proving himself as a unique and interesting actor.

Garfield pretty much dominates the film but a few of the supporting performers do manage to make an impression.  Vince Vaughn is surprisingly effective as the tough and no-nonsense sergeant and Teresa Palmer is sympathetic as Doss’s wife.  Hugo Weaving plays Doss’s alcoholic father, a man who is still haunted by what he saw during the first world war and he does a great job.

I know that some people are going to be hesitant about Hacksaw Ridge because it was directed by Mel Gibson but you know what?   You may not expect Mel Gibson to direct one of the most searing anti-war films of the past decade but that’s exactly what he managed to do.  It’s an important film, one that reminds us that war is neither fun nor an adventure.  It’s a film that shows what our combat veterans had to deal with (and when we countless men lost their legs as the result of a Japanese rocket, it’s hard not to make the connection to the countless vets who have lost limbs in the Middle East) and, in its way, chastises a society that would abandon them after the war is over.  If Doss, working on his own, was willing to put his life at risk to save 75 wounded soldiers, how can we, as a society, justify not taking care of our wounded veterans?   Hacksaw Ridge is a film that works both as a tribute to our veterans and a reminder that the costs of war are all too real.

It’s a good and important film.  I recommend the Hell out of it.