Hacksaw Ridge: Film Review
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths
Director: Mel Gibson
It's perhaps easy to see why Mel Gibson would be drawn to the true story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss, a man whose unconventional ways saw him save 75 of his colleagues during the battle of Okinawa in May 1945.
Once on the outside of Hollywood, director Gibson's had a bit of a comeback, with a recent starring role in B movie Blood Father and now with Oscar talk for a war film about the attack on Hacksaw Ridge during the height of the campaign.
But opting to take more of a cheesy biopic route for Hacksaw Ridge lends the film more to a feeling of Christian Forrest Gump goes to war, rather than a war film destined for the ages.
Garfield plays Doss, an almost simpleton hick of a man whose pacifism and world view was shaped by accidentally nearly bashing his brother to death in a play fight. With a fragile father suffering from PTSD from the Great War (an excellently nuanced turn from Weaving who pitches it perfectly between pathos and faltering abuse), Doss decides he wants to go to war - but to save lives rather than take them.
Despite his father's refusal to endorse this route for either of his sons, and with the army resolutely against Doss' denial of weapons, the fight between values and principles forms the large part of this film, complete with corny dialogue and cliched moments of imposed conflict with fellow trainees.
Facing a court martial, Doss is saved at the last moment unexpectedly from spending the war in prison and ships out to Okinawa to face the Japanese, swarming like locusts from underground and into direct conflict with Doss' ideologies and comrades.
It's perhaps during a ferocious 15 minute fight sequence atop Hacksaw Ridge that Gibson's film comes to life, spinning multiple brutal attacks and displaying the true horrors of war (and comes at a welcome relief from the onslaught of over-wrought and slow-mo shots of burned and battered bodies - subtlety is not Gibson's strong point here).
But in the final third of the film, Gibson's content to over-saturate proceedings with Christian elements, complete with overtly religious iconography (no worse than Doss' messianic final shot as he ascends in a stretcher from atop the Ridge with a Bible clutched in one hand and another hanging over the edge as the score rouses higher and higher) that feels as brutally obvious as some of the earlier elements of this relatively rote war film.
Doss' story is supposed to inspire and while Garfield gives good hick and earnestness to the man, he's not well served by the screenplay which wrings as much pathos as it can from an over-use and over-reliance on an unsubtle approach. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin is the inclusion of documentary footage and interviews from the real-life Doss to hammer home the point of it all - an unnecessary touch that removes any remaining power from what's already transpired.
Ultimately, Hacksaw Ridge eviscerates the heart of its own story by heading down a cliched route that's well trodden by others before it; its heavy-handed direction cripples its ultimate goal and what should be an inspiring true story depicting the horrors of war and the heroism of some is ham-fisted and hackneyed.