Directed by Mel Gibson, starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn and Rachel Griffiths. In WWII Army Medic Desmond T.Doss served during the battle of Okinawa, though he refused to hold a rifle owing to strong religious beliefs, he saved 75 lives.
Hacksaw Ridge is the return of director Mel Gibson who last directed a film ten years ago in Apocalypto, a film I never saw. In fact, I have never seen any of Mel Gibson’s work in regards to his directorial ability, so I was curious about this film. Hacksaw Ridge has been nominated for 6 Oscars and has 39 wins to its name already, so clearly, this film should be worth its weight in gold, yes?
Mel Gibson is a good director, he manages to an extent, to encapsulates aspects of the southern charm of America during the 1940s, whilst also exploring a far more sinister tone. He does seem to come into his own during the second hour of the film where he captures the absolute chaos of war, with some intelligent, powerful and thought provoking moments, though I would question the authenticity of the realism towards the end. One man who should receive high praise indeed for his work on this film is the Cinematographer, Simon Duggan, who manages to captures some rather beautiful scenes as well as some quite graphically violent ones. The scenes of war are, as you would imagine, utterly violent and chaotic, but really quite engaging to watch with some powerful moments, one would imagine these scenes to be quite a faithful depiction of war.
My biggest grievance with this film is the narrative, which may sound a tad odd considering this is based on real events. The film examines the herculean efforts of Desmond T. Doss, who saved 75 lives at Hacksaw Ridge by painstakingly rescuing his wounded comrades from the battlefield whilst under fire from the Japanese soldiers. However, the summation of the film thus far is the film, there are no plot twists or sections of the film revealing a further plot that wasn’t either shown during the trailers or discussed in the various press interviews with the cast. This is my biggest disappointment with the film, which is perhaps not the film’s fault as many fall into the trap of one too many plot details being revealed in this way. Had I only been told, this is a war film based on religious principles starring Andrew Garfield, I would have happily jumped on board; however, as the last scene came to a close I felt aggravatingly frustrated. Not only is the ending abrupt, it is also trying far too hard to be poetic. I felt the film needed more narrative and further development.
The first hour of this film attempts to intelligently debate the ethical discussion of war and religion, a subject I find fascinating both personally and because of the deep religious roots America claims to have, but which mysteriously only work when it best suits their agenda. The debates verge on something deeper and far more profound at times but struggle to move beyond the circular retorts produced by the various army officials, who cannot see beyond their own perceptions and agenda. Though at times this is well orchestrated, I feel this should have delved deeper into the subject as this is the foundation and motivation of the film, religion and war. The second hour focuses on the battle itself, visually it’s really impressive to behold, as previously mentioned the cinematography is really quite spectacular, really underlining the absolute chaos of war and the devastation it can do to the human body.
The cast is absolutely phenomenal, Garfield who is perhaps best known for playing Spider-Man has chosen his career path well so far. In Hacksaw Ridge he displays a level of acting that is quite profound at times, I haven’t seen this type of emotionally charged performance from him before. He displays an emotional depth, a fierce determination, absolute charm and passion, with an inner conflict throughout. He really is just utterly marvellous to watch and works very well with Teresa Palmer who, though she has some character to work with, I would like to have seen more of her performance. I am now desperate to see Garfield in Scorsese’s Silence.
Vince Vaughen who plays Sgt Howell is surprisingly fantastic, he provides a comedic yet serious tone to the film. In one particular scene where he first confronts his soldiers in their barracks, which serves as his character’s introduction in the film, his comedy is both perfectly timed and delivered. By far the best performance was delivered by Hugo Weaving who plays Tom Doss, the father of Desmond. Weaving is raw, he is powerful and also incredibly vulnerable. I was actually quite blown away by just how good he is in this film.
As a side note, I can’t quite decide between a 3 star and a 4 star review. Though during the film I was completely gripped, the end shot was quite jarring for me and the more I analyse it the more I realise something about it doesn’t quite fit for me.
OVERALL *** Visually this film is powerful, there’s no denying it and the cast is phenomenal. What it lacks is a certain depth in the narrative and the religious discussions. The film is constantly battling the problematic situation that as an audience we already know the plot before the film has even begun. Perhaps this was one film that had been heightened to great expectations in my mind but fell short of reaching that pedestal.
RECOMMENDATION – This film is certainly worth watching, if only for a visual spectacle and a fantastic cast. It was just missing a certain something for me.