Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review
Blood splatters, bodies are ripped in two and intestines fly in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, and yet the movie is oddly about a man who decried violence and was so resolute that he refused to even touch a weapon--even when going to battle in Okinawa. Though flawed, Hacksaw Ridge is an enjoyable, old-school war movie splashed with a dose of modern sentiment (and gore).
Thoroughly entertaining though by no means a masterpiece, Hacksaw Ridge stars former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, who enlisted in the Army in World War II but due to his religious convictions refused to kill the enemy, opting to serve his country as a field medic instead. Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington and Hugo Weaving fill out the supporting cast.
It’s been ten years since Gibson last sat in the director’s chair--for the criminally overlooked Apocalypto--and in the first few seconds Hacksaw Ridge establishes that it is indeed a Gibson film, with the camera panning over decimated bodies, unblinkingly showing the worst effects of war. Gibson holds very little back, especially in the film’s final climax, for what is one of the most brutal depictions of war since Saving Private Ryan… or at least the Gibson-starring We Were Soldiers. The war sequences are bloody, intense and exciting, and most of all they serve as a stark contrast to the main character, who despite the odds saved so many people singlehandedly that he was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
But the action was never in question. It’s the rest of the movie that will either sell you or it won’t. The acting is generally solid, with Garfield delivering a divisive performance. He’s excellent in many ways, but Gibson and screenwriters Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan apply so much gee-golly goodness to the guy you sort of want to punch him in the face sometimes. He also reminded me of DJ Qualls in Road Trip.
Teresa Palmer delivers one of the finest performances of her career and does her best to elevate her character above the typical wife-of-the-soldier-going-off-to-war. Hugo Weaving is the real scene-stealer, though, as he plays Doss’ abusive, alcoholic war vet of a father who, despite his failings, loves his sons and is scared to death of them going off to war. Give this man a supporting Oscar nomination, please.
As for Vince Vaughn, he is the epitome of Hacksaw Ridge’s almost-great-but-not-quite end result. He storms onto set with one of the most entertaining and funny sequences all year (yes, the movie has a surprising amount of humor), verbally destroying his squad of boot camp recruits. He’s fantastic. But as the movie progresses, and the movie shifts into serious mode, Vaughn, or at least the writing of his character, fails to make the transition.
I’m pretty sure it’s the writing.
In the second half of the film, Vaughn is forced to say cheesy lines such as “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy,” and as the action takes over, the dialogue for everyone becomes more and more cliche. There’s the obligatory “You’ve got to see this!” and several other cringe-inducing lines.
The story itself also plays out like an old-school war movie, with the standard progression through boot camp and schmaltzy scenes of heroics, like that moment when (mini-spoiler) Doss’ father dresses up in his old uniform (good thing, after all those years of drinking, it still fits) and barges into his son’s court martial and saves him from prison at the last second, presumably something that didn’t happen in real life. Even the film’s aesthetics--overtly glossy at times--feels a bit off.
Hacksaw Ridge is a good movie that tells an amazing story about a true hero, but its uneven screenplay and schmaltzy overtones keep it from being great. But hey, it’s good to have Mel Gibson back.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.