Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Movie Review: HACKSAW RIDGE (2016)


Director: Mel Gibson
Genre: Drama, History, War
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths
Runtime: 139 min
Rating: R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images
Purchasing Links: DVD, Blu-ray

Read the review after the jump.


Review by Popa Razvan

Mel Gibson, who hasn't directed a film since 2006's "Apocalypto", makes a fantastic comeback with "Hacksaw Ridge". I am surprised that Hollywood never managed to make a movie based on the life of Desmond T. Doss until now. His heroic deeds as a combat medic during the World War II battle of Okinawa are frankly the stuff of legends. Not only was he a true blue hero, but he was also a conscientious objector, and the first to receive the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty.

Desmond Doss, played in the film by Andrew Garfield, set himself apart from other wartime heroes due to the fact that he refused to pick up a weapon and kill on account of his faith. Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist. He also respected the Sabbath and would not eat meat. Even though he was essentially treated like an outcast, he ended up saving 75 wounded soldiers in the Battle of Okinawa in what could only be described as a superhero feat. A quick read of this Wikipedia page will reveal just how incredible this man was, even beyond the scope of the film.

Hacksaw Ridge Image 1

His pacifism was rooted in a dramatic event from his childhood, when he almost killed his brother, Hal, in a scuffle that got out of control. His drunken father (Hugo Weaving), a troubled World War I veteran, was also a catalyst in his religious evolution. When the war broke out, he enlisted in the military because he felt he couldn't just stay at home while everybody else fought for him. Basic training proved to be particularly difficult as his commanding officers weren't particularly thrilled about going to war with a conscientious objector, so they did their best to discharge him for psychiatric reasons. When that failed, they court martialed him for insubordination. The trial ultimately resulted in the acknowledgement of his Constitutional right to go into battle without a weapon to defend himself.

This first half of the film that chronicles all of the above is also the least impressive. It's a somewhat odd mix of coming-of-age story, cornball romance, and court-room drama. The romance part involves Desmond and Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), who eventually became his wife. Their time together on screen is painfully cliched, but is rendered bearable by the chemistry between Garfield and Palmer. In the end, though, all of it serves a purpose, which is to create an antithesis to the darkness of war and build up a character that Gibson can deconstruct in the hell of battle from the film's second half. The persecution that Desmond endures because of his faith is also the perfect vehicle for Gibson, who has a knack for films about people standing up and/or sacrificing themselves for their beliefs.

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Once Desmond lands on the battlefield of Okinawa, the film turns into a brutal assault on the senses. The Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, claiming the lives of 14,009 Allied and 77,417 Japanese soldiers. And Gibson makes the most of it, crafting a genuine hell-on-Earth atmosphere as U.S. Troops climb the Maeda Escarpment, also known as Hacksaw Ridge. The fighting is intense and gory, almost to the point where it becomes a horror film. Production values are high, and even though the film only cost a modest $40 million to produce, everything from the cinematography to the sound editing and set design are top-notch. The CGI is occasionally unconvincing, but not a major distraction.

Pushed back by a surprise Japanese attack, the Americans retreat, leaving Desmond and many other wounded soldiers behind. Hearing the cries of the wounded, Doss returns to the battlefield and carries back anyone he finds alive, rappelling them down by rope, one by one. For each soldier he saved, he would pray "Lord, help me get one more".

Mel Gibson is not a subtle filmmaker and this is why this movie works so well. Whether it's the montage of Doss saving his fallen comrades (and a few Japanese, that unfortunately "didn't make it") or the disturbingly detailed images of corpses and torn limbs, Gibson's raw, unfiltered talent is a perfect fit for this project.

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Garfield is also essential to this film. His performance is convincing and endearing even when he has to deliver corny dialogue in the first half of the film. He also handles the trials and tribulations of his character with total commitment and raw emotional strength when it's required. On paper the character would seem no less than a superhero, but Garfield brings nuance and humanity, effectively crafting a living, breathing person, not a war hero stereotype. It would be unfair not to mention the supporting players, as well. Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington are excellent and they really make that dull first half much more bearable.

"Hacksaw Ridge" is indeed one of 2016's best films. It portrays a story that has been overlooked until now. Perhaps it was best to wait for someone like Gibson to tell it. It's a visceral experience, and one of the best war films in a long time.



  • An incredible true story
  • Powerful storytelling under Gibson's assured direction
  • Andrew Garfield's nuanced portrayal
  • Excellent supporting cast
  • Visceral war sequences
  • High production values

  • Cliched and generic first half



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