Film Review: Hacksaw Ridge
Wars Come and Go, But Soldiers Are Eternal.
Hacksaw Ridge is the latest cinematic endeavor of the controversial actor-director Mel Gibson. When you consider the public backlash that Gibson’s inflammatory comments revolving around his anti-Semitic sentimentalities generated, it is no wonder that Gibson has not directed a major film in over a decade. Hacksaw Ridge is not perfect and there were some issues in the end I felt, mainly that it ended too abruptly. However, everything that happened after the opening credits to seeing the real-life Desmond Doss on-screen, was an achievement Mr. Gibson should feel proud about.
The film features a good cast that includes Andrew Garfield, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, and Hugo Weaving. Here, Gibson reminds us of the true story of Private Desmond T. Doss, a US Army combat medic who served in World War II at the Battle of Okinawa without firing a single shot. As a “conscientious observer,” Doss was allowed to go into battle without a firearm and, despite the ridicule and abuse he faced from his commanders and fellow soldiers, refused to give up his spot in the army. Even though the army did everything they could to force him to capitulate, including the threat of court-martial, Doss (Garfield) refused to compromise his Christian faith in exchange for leniency.
Gibson’s mind’s eye must have definitely worked overtime on this film. Now, I have no proof to support this, but I think Hacksaw Ridge may have just surpassed Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) for most on-screen deaths. If it did not, though, then it definitely gave it a run for its money at the very least. Performance-wise, Garfield was the best possible choice for the role as he matched the real-life Doss’s extremely lean physique perfectly. More importantly, the role needed someone skinny enough not to be physically imposing, but strong enough to do the “heavy lifting” both cinematically and promotionally. Mission accomplished. Palmer is mildly charming as Dorothy Schutte—the young and beautiful WWII nurse whose interactions with Doss range increase dramatically after their first kiss. Then all of a sudden she transforms into a concerned wife fighting on behalf of her husband’s right to interpret God’s messages as he sees fit. Vaughn as Sergeant Howell was extremely interesting to me because I had never seen him in a militaristic role. His voice cracked more than a few times during his “drill instructor intimidation” scenes and when you looked at him long enough, his eyes kind of emoted this weird “I Am So Not Meant For This Role?” SOS message.
Worthington, who has been working behind the camera more than in front of lately, dips his toe back in the acting pool again—probably because he will be reprising his major role in James Cameron’s upcoming and highly anticipated Avatar 2 film sometime next year. However, for me, the most impressive performance in Hacksaw Ridge belonged to Hugo Weaving (aka ‘Agent Smith’ from the Matrix trilogy). His portrayal of the tormented soldier should be studied, copied, and followed for years to come. Hacksaw Ridge has already garnered an Oscar buzz for Garfield and Gibson in particular, and rightly so. The former Spiderman actor is worthy of the praise he has received and Gibson, as crazy as he is, still has a stranglehold of filmmaking and that much is very clear with his direction of Hacksaw Ridge.