Synopsis : Hacksaw Ridge is a biopic of Private Desmond Doss. He was the first “conscientious objector” to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Review : Mel Gibson returns to the Hollywood mainstream with a typical blood-and-gore feature that has earned six nominations at the 89th Academy Awards. The surprising thing is, he chose to focus on the person who swore never to pick up firearms and yet had a pivotal role to play in the battle for Hacksaw Ridge.
The film is in two halves, basically. Up until the first 65 minutes or so of the 139-minutes runtime, it shows us who Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was and what led to him resolving not to pick up arms. Desmond is a deeply religious person who tries to follow the words of the Lord in letter and spirit. A certain incident helps him decide against taking up a gun. The call of the country, though, and everyone else signing up, compels him to join the army and do his duty. It is through the power of his faith that he helps, and keeps helping, his fellow men.
The film has its high points, especially the realistic, gruesome depiction of war that I think is one of the best ever. Anyone who has watched the first half an hour of Saving Private Ryan would know what I’m talking about. And this one really builds over that. And it shows how stupendous Pvt. Doss’ work was.
The problems of the film are largely to do with its clichés. When Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) started his screaming, all I could think of was this scene in Full Metal Jacket. The supporting cast also follows a lot of the patterns that one sees in Oscar-bait movies. So you have the PTSD-suffering war veteran father, the supportive mother and brother, the nothing-more-than-an-arm-candy girlfriend, the resident joker of the platoon, the bully-turned-best-friend and so on and so forth. A guy watching with me even predicted that the hero will meet the girl in a particular sequence, a full minute before she came onscreen for the first time. So yeah, the film has its issues.
The performances, though, are remarkable. Andrew Garfield does his growing reputation no harm with two solid roles this year (the other being in Martin Scorsese’s Silence). The part when he goes about saving as many people as he can, regardless of their affiliation, is one of the many sequences where he shines. He battles exhaustion and yet keeps going on. Hugo Weaving as the drunk, world-weary father is effective too. And Sam Worthington as Captain Jack Glover, the leader of the Company tasked with capturing the Ridge is wonderfully understated. But I guess the second best role (after Garfield’s) in the film is that of Vince Vaughn. He brings a touch of his natural comedic talent to the role of the Sergeant tasked with training the young recruits. And even in the heat of the battle, his wit and charm remain intact. It’s like a smile is almost guaranteed whenever he comes on the screen. In a movie so fixated with violence, that is a remarkable escapist act. Teresa Palmer as Dorothy Schutte, Desmond’s girlfriend, does well in the limited screen time she gets. Unfortunately, limited is what the two female characters’ parts (Dorothy and Desmond’s mother) are here. Mind you, the film focusses mostly on Desmond and his fight both within and without so there’s no point in denouncing the lack of big female roles here. Even the other male parts aren’t as delved into as they could have been. At least that’s what I think. For that, maybe Hidden Figures is the better choice, another hisorical biopic that’s been featured at the Oscars this year.
The film has been shot exquisitely. Part of the credit also goes to the production designer. The scenes in Virginia have a clean, earthly feel to them. The battle scenes are something entirely else though. Barren, razed landscape that almost stinks of death has been set up and captured nicely. And the fact that the movie doesn’t feel long despite its runtime is a credit to the editor. Also, the sound mixing for the battle scenes is terrific too.
There’s something to be said about the director though. He has made a career out of films containing violence (Braveheart, The Passion of The Christ) and here his subject matter is someone who’s uniquely nonviolent amid all the carnage. However, as much as the movie focusses on Desmond, it also seems to derive guilty pleasure from shots that spray guts all over the screen. That has to be one of the great modern paradoxes although, to be honest, so is the protagonist.
Prediction : Given the obviously-strong competition for the Oscars and its own weaknesses, I think Hacksaw Ridge will not win in any of the big categories. If anything, it might win for the technical ones. That would be just about right.
Genre : War, Drama, Action, History, Biopic.
Verdict : Hacksaw Ridge is a classic war movie that suffers because of some clichés in the first half but delivers a rousing second half that more than makes up for its shortcomings.
Rating : ⭐⭐⭐1/2
Viewing Guide : The film has some strong language and many scenes of gory violence. If you aren’t comfortable with bloodletting onscreen, you are better off giving this a pass. If you are an action fan, you would love this.
Trivia : If you are interested in reading about the real-life story behind the film, you might like this link. Also, to compare how the film holds up to reality, check this link.
Have you watched Hacksaw Ridge yet? What are your thoughts on the film? Did this review mirror your impression of the film? Kindly tell me in the comments section.
Thanks for reading.
Hacksaw Ridge trailer :