Published on October 30th, 2016 | by Curtis Mayfield
Hacksaw Ridge – Film Review
Reviewed by Curtis Mayfield M-H on 13th of October, 2016
Icon Film Distribution presents a film by Mel Gibson
Written by Andrew Knight & Robert Schenkkan
Produced by Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, William D. Johnson, Bill Mechanic, Brian Oliver, David Permut & Tyler Thompson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Rachel Griffiths & Vince Vaughn
Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cinematography: Simon Duggan
Edited by John Gilbert
Running Time: 131 minutes
Release Date: 3rd of November 2016
Much like the Hollywood western, the war film genre has been done so many times it’s hard to tell if there are any new stories in that field. For the Mel Gibson directed Hacksaw Ridge it seems like there definitely is. Andrew Garfield plays the real life Desmond T. Doss, a World War II American medic who was the first Conscientious Objector to be given the Medal of Honor. Now before you start thinking this is another American propaganda war film that’s been made for a contemporary and confused audience, just bare with me. Partially it is a very patriotic film but it has more legs to stand on than just that. The true story of Doss is quite amazing as it’s half a courtroom drama and half a full-on bloody war story. After a near deadly fight with his brother as a child, Doss takes up the vow to never hurt any human ever again. He takes this mantra with him all the way through to adulthood when he attempts to join the army as medic. Garfield plays Doss as a smarter version of Forrest Gump but is just as sweet and possibly naïve as the Tom Hanks character. The sappiness is especially present when Doss meets his future wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) who’s a nurse at a local hospital. It’s this sweetness that gets Doss into trouble when he eventually arrives at a boot camp filled with muscle heads that are more than willing to kill in the name of their country.
Doss joins a ragtag team of soldiers who make up much of the comedy relief. One of minor note is the muscle-bound pretty boy Milt ‘Hollywood’ (Luke Pegler) who’s made to do the obstacle course butt-naked. Most notable of the comic stand-ins is Vince Vaughn playing the hard-arse Sergeant Howell. Vaughn does a pretty decent job of half channelling his best Sergeant Hartman impression and mixing that with the cool-handed understanding of a tough but fair English high school teacher. The movie begins to take a moral turn when Doss refuses to pick up a gun, even for basic training. He stands by his decision to save lives and not take them when he’s dragged through the army’s court system. With some intervention from his alcoholic war hero father (played awesomely by Hugo Weaving) Doss avoids any prison time and is granted his chance to serve during the Battle of Okinawa in Japan. This is where the movie takes another turn and it should be applauded since Gibson makes no attempts at sugar coating the battlefield. The violence manages to come off as realistic but not gratuitous as horrible scenes are put on display. This is a reminder that war films are not exactly entertainment but instead a history lesson. What’s also commendable about the film is that the Japanese aren’t exactly vilified as simply being the other side to kill. Though of course there are some racial slurs thrown in since this is a story about 1940s American soldiers. Again this story hasn’t been sugar coated.
What is entertaining about this movie is Doss’ presentation as a total bad-arse war hero who killed no one and saved 75 people from dying on an impossible battlefield. Some of those he saved were Japanese soldiers. Though I’m sure that there are details left out that would put the American side of history in a bad light and hey, there’s definitely a lot of Oscar bait being dangled with this one, but everything still comes together nicely. But focusing solely on this very interesting individual of WWII history makes for a great narrative. What’s also worth pointing out is that Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan’s screenplay has been brought to life on Australian soil. Gibson was feeling his roots it seems since the entire American and Japanese settings were filmed in New South Wales. There’s probably some sort of good tax break in there for the filmmakers but lets just stick with the idea that racist-ass Melly Gibsons (see Key and Peele) returned home for this one out of goodwill. The choices of filming locations also brings in a great Australian cast doing their best to convince us that we’re in 1940s America. Rachel Griffiths is great (but underused) as Doss’ long-suffering mother. Sam Worthington appears as Glover, a no-nonsense captain who’s looking for any excuse to kick Doss and his endearing ways out of the army. Richard Roxburgh’s as another hard-headed army superior will probably make it hard for Australian audiences to take his scenes seriously (he’s always going to be Rake right?). The list of talented Aussie actors can basically be summed up with the most recent cast of both Neighbours and Home & Away.
Andrew Garfield’s overly sweet performance of a humble war hero does border on a sickening experience but luckily the plot makes a much needed hard left turn which takes us away from the sappy moral high ground and puts the lead character in a situation where his moral choices actually make sense. A war movie that has a protagonist that never picks up a weapon is kind of interesting in itself and the rest is just a bonus. Focusing purely on the visuals of the movie, Gibson and co have created an amazing and actually very scary war experience. Who would have thought that jump scares could exist in a historical movie? Hacksaw Ridge marks a standout performance for Garfield and a triumphant directorial return for that crazy guy Mel.
Summary: Hacksaw Ridge marks a standout performance for Garfield and a triumphant directorial return for that crazy guy Mel.