Who brings a gun to a fist fight, anyway?
Ever since he was a little boy, Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) has been around and seen all sorts of violence that it’s made him into a far more civilized, peaceful person as he’s gotten older. However, with WWII on the horizon, Desmond feels the need to serve and protect his country. But, how can one do that if they aren’t willing to pick up a gun and kill the enemy? Well, for Desmond, he decides that his true calling in war is to be a on-the-field medic and care for his fellow soldiers, all without having to lift a finger to kill someone. Obviously, Desmond’s fellow soldiers and comrades don’t take too kindly to Desmond’s “conscientious objector” ways, leading them to not just beat him up, but mock him and try whatever they can to get him kicked out of the Army for good. Through it all though, Desmond remains faithful to his true-self and doesn’t let others get in the way of what he rightfully believes him, even when death is staring him clear in the face.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a pacifist.
For the first hour or so, Hacksaw Ridge is as playful, as entertaining, and as light as I’ve ever seen a war movie start. Sure, there’s a lot of dark stuff about alcoholism, PTSD, daddy issues, and violence that pops up every so often, but for the most part, Hacksaw Ridge starts out like an old school war flick, that soon turns into the bright-eyed version of Full Metal Jacket. It seems as if we’re going to get something so silly and wacky, that it actually makes you wonder whether Mel Gibson directed it, or he just through his name on there and had someone else do the job for him.
But then, after that first hour and the soldiers hit the battlefield, holy hell, it does a total 180 and all of a sudden, it’s a real war flick.
There’s blood, there’s guts, there’s decapitations, there’s severed-limbs, there’s fire, there’s explosions, there’s wounds, there’s cuts, there’s injuries, there’s cursing, there’s screaming, there’s shouting, there’s grown-men yelling for their mommies, there’s bullets, there’s guns, there’s grenades, and most of all, there’s death. Somehow, through some way, Mel Gibson himself was able to fool us all into thinking that this was going to be none other than an entertaining romp on WWII, only to then, turn the other cheek and absolutely stick our faces in it. If anything, it says more about us, than it does him – how can we expect something so lovely and cheerful to come out of so much pain, agony and death?
Well, Gibson answers that by basically saying, “we don’t.” We don’t, in that we spend roughly an hour or so with these characters, getting to know them, their lives, their hopes, ambitions and dreams, and then, with the drop of a hat, they’re shot dead, point blank in the heads. It’s so shocking, so abrupt, and so disturbing, that honestly, it couldn’t have been done any other way. Some may call it “uneven”, which it may definitely be, but still, Gibson surprises us out of nowhere and it works – it has the rest of the movie play-out in a far more serious, albeit more solemn tone.
Now, that isn’t to say that the movie’s perfect, of course.
As usual, Gibson’s movies, always look, sound and feel great, but when you get down to the bottom of them, are they really about much? Not quite. See, with Hacksaw Ridge, it’s obvious from the very start that it’s about faith, religion, and standing against war, with Garfield’s Desmond clearly angled as the Jesus-figure of the story and it’s so corny, that it actually works, until it gets way too obvious, with Gibson finding whichever possible symbolism that he can find and not stepping away from it one bit.
“Yes, Mr. Garfield. We allow you to stay away from franchise flicks forever!”
Should I be shocked that it’s coming from the same guy who did Passion of the Christ? Obviously, no, but it does make you wonder just what is this story about? Desmond Doss’ acts of bravery and heroism? Or, Mel Gibson’s constant battle with himself and his religion? Either way, it doesn’t keep Hacksaw Ridge from still being a very good war movie, that has something to say, even if Gibson doesn’t fully know what that is, or how to get it all out.
It also doesn’t keep the cast from giving some solid performances, either.
Andrew Garfield, now that he’s done with Spider-Man, can finally go back to making due on the promise he showed with the Social Network and if last year’s 99 Homes was just a starter, Hacksaw Ridge is his next-at-bat. While it’s definitely a thinner role, Garfield’s great in it, displaying a wild deal of humor, heart and personality, even if he does sometimes come off a tad bit too much like a classier-version of Forrest Gump. That said, Garfield handles everything so well, that he honestly does make it seem like he’s a true saint, even if the movie can’t trust him enough to give that impression in the first place.
Others like Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, and yes, even Vince Vaughn, all show up and put in some surprisingly solid work. Gibson has always been an actor’s director, showing each and every player off for what they can do best and never losing sight that they add a little more to the story. Because it’s not just about Doss and his heroic acts, as much as it’s about the aspect of war and the toll it can take on the actual humans themselves. The film’s preachy and obvious, but there’s an undercurrent of some real, hard and honest emotions here that work and make you think twice about war itself, and also Gibson.
Maybe that was his plan all along, that bastard.
Consensus: While heavy-handed, Hacksaw Ridge works as a brutal, well-acted and compelling anti-war flick that shows the return of Mel Gibson, the incredibly talented director that we didn’t know we missed so much of.
7.5 / 10
Hold up, everyone. Private Doss has got to think about his life.
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire