Saturday, December 3, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge Review

Hacksaw Ridge

Director: Mel Gibson
Cast Headliners: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Theresa Palmer, Vince Vaughan, Sam Worthington
Original Release Date: November 4th, 2016 (seen mid/late Nov)

  “War is hell' is a phrase and words that have been explored in many films and media before. Countless tales of heroism, true stories, and sacrifice during World War 2 have been told in Hollywood before. Hacksaw Ridge has something extra notable in it: the protagonist never once touches or uses a gun. How does this happen, and does this make for a worthy premise? Director Mel Gibson tells a overall emotional and visceral tale on what this means to make a pretty unique film.
In essence the movie is a biography of the important parts of Desmond Doss(Andrew Garfield), a Virginian who lives with his brother Hal(Nathaniel Buzolic), and parents Tom(Hugo Weaving ) and Bertha(Rachel Griffiths). Flashbacks show his young childhood, and encounters with the violence, spirituality, and drunkenness of his father which forms his beliefs. World War 2 starts, and amongst family drama he finds himself joining the military even with his pacifistic views that do not permit him to even touch a firearm.
The movie goes through three major arcs and settings that contrast pretty heavily in quality and style from each other. The film's opening 1/3 are set in Virginia and detail the Doss family drama. There's some decent stuff, but at times things can get cheesy. It's unfortunate that the great Hugo Weaving kind of bumbles through his lines here especially since he's a big part of the first third. But he has small moments of effective emotion. None of the rest of this sequence is very memorable but does establish the character of Doss. There's the showing as well of his romance with future wife Dorothy Schutte(Teresa Palmer). This is handled with some slightly awkward chemistry between Garfield and Palmer, and is paired with cheesy music but beautiful visual shots courtesy of Gibson.

The next portion of the film follows in the same trend as Doss goes to bootcamp. Here he meets the strict Sgt. Howell(Vince Vaughn) and stricter Cpt.Glover(Sam Worthington). Suffice to say that Doss's views do not mesh well with the military. It should be seen first hand, but there's an interesting, almost A Few Good Men style legal element here that would make the movie interesting in its own right as a standalone. Vaughan provides some needed comic relief , especially before things get too grim, and shows a bit of a type cast break from what he normally does. Worthington as well gives a ferocity and slight adversary role that's memorable. There's also a pretty good cast of various supporting squad members, from the bullying Smitty(Luke Bracer) to the charismatic “Hollywood”(Luke Pegler).
As with most war epic films, all of the mixed ride of the civilian life is all just set up to the real part of the film, the battlefield. Set in the brutal Pacific 1945 Battle of Okinawa, Doss and crew are sent to the frontlines through what is nearly non-stop action for the rest of the film's long run-time. This is one of Hacksaw Ridge's strongest suits. Mel Gibson is a director that has delivered powerful brutal imagery through Christ in Passion and conflict in Braveheart and Apocalypto. A WW2 film is a natural fit, and the battle scenes are a varied greatness of brutal, exciting, horrifying , explosive, and dark. This is perhaps one of the most brutal war films ever made as it makes Saving Private Ryan seem like it was holding back slightly in terms of gore. It at times may seem excessive, but no doubt this is how it really was and brings the audience to the front line. There are slight moments of obvious CGI but otherwise it's a terrifying, visceral portal to the past. Perhaps the brutal violence helps sell the message as well.
Through this all, it's exciting to see how Doss handles this. The plot is good at making just one titular ridge of “hacksaw” worth the time. This allows Garfield to shine, who is the other main highlight. Andrew Garfield has shown some promise in other roles in his career, but here he has the extended time and material Spider-Man never gave him. He brings depth, emotion, an accent, that makes him transform into the role and feel and cheer for him in his faith. One constantly cares for Doss, and his peers.
Mel Gibson has made one of the new World War 2 Pacific front legends. Although it has its drawbacks, most notably in the buildup and some bit pieces, the violent action and core themes/performance make it unique and commendable. 8.75 out of 10

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