Saturday, October 29, 2016


Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s latest directorial effort telling the true story of Medal of Honor recipient Desmond T. Doss (portrayed by Andrew Garfield in this film). Doss was a combat medic in the U.S. Army during the World War II incursions into Japan and, as a conscientious objector on religious grounds, he refused to carry a gun or to commit any violence on another. During a battle aimed at taking Hacksaw Ridge from the Japanese, Doss proved his heroism by saving many American lives. This film stars Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, and Luke Bracey. It's an incredibly powerful film which affected me on a deeply emotional level in addition to it impressing me technically.

The first thing I really want to lean into in this review is the story. I will be the first to point out (in company with other reviewers, of course) that this movie has many cliché moments (especially in the first half of the film). Despite the classic frequently shown elements of the story, their execution was done so well and married with the unique features about the hero that Doss is and the intensity that the films shows off later on made the problems with seeing those tropes over again to be beneficial rather than detrimental.

Screenwriters Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan constructed this film in two disjunctive portions. This reminded me of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket in a way although, unlike that film, Hacksaw Ridge remains conventional throughout. The introductory portion is akin to most military films with training and has many of the World War II “men going off to war” tropes. Then the film shifts dramatically as we get to see the horrors of war to their fullest extent. Although this compresses a lot of the action and heroism in the story and elongates a portion of the film you kind of have an urge to get through, I think it worked because without the extensiveness of the beginning of this film a lot of the emotion and depth that comes in the payoff section would be lost on the audience. I also think the way Gibson directed the two portions (from one being heartwarming, fun, and generally of human interest to the other being draining, intense, and emotionally powerful) really made this dichotomy work and made the film much more impactful as an audience member.

In addition to the writing and structural elements of the story, this movie is telling a story that is, at its base, very moving and powerful. The sheer lack of believability of everything that is going on (yet knowing it is a true story) makes this film a shock to the senses, but in a very good way. Doss is a real life hero, and I thought that on the whole the story did his heroism justice in a meaningful way.

Beyond story, this film is pretty technically brilliant as well. The cinematography throughout the film is extremely well done. It has a certain dreamlike sense to it all that makes it a very interesting contrast with the gritty realism shown through large swaths of this film. The framing and shot design were gorgeous. The frenetic nature of the fights never makes those scenes feel incomprehensible because the geography and situating of everything going on are executed so well (a real tribute to the genuine greatness Gibson brings to the director’s chair). I also think the way the sound design for the war scenes is used to accentuate the action was incredibly well inserted. Finally, the score of this film really snuck up on me. It has a certain feel I can’t quite describe but it felt pretty average at first. By the end it was extremely emotionally effecting and powerful as a piece of music.

I would also like to mention the performances in this film. Andrew Garfield adds another stellar entry onto his resume with this piece that could well earn him a much deserved Oscar nomination. He brings emotional layers and depth to Doss that were impressive in a young actor and that moved me as an audience member more than almost any other individual element. The supporting cast is all uniformly solid otherwise. There were no real standouts amongst them for me but they all brought something to the table that made the film all the better for it.

As negatives go, I don’t have many in this film. For me it was a moving piece about a true hero executed to near perfection. I think as complaints go, the likely ones will be that the tones of the two sections of this movie feel overly disjointed and that the film is filled with tried and true clichés and tropes from war movies past. Those complaints are true and the degree to which those impact you as a viewer will vary. For me, they had little effect at all. I thought that the way the story was told was well formulated to reach the conclusion of this film and that the tropes were sufficiently well executed for them to not be problematic.

I will also use a portion of this review to give a trigger warning for potential viewers. This film has extended sequence of incredibly intense violence on the level of the opening scene of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. A few people left my screening as a result of this. It was well within my range of abilities, but for some it can be very hard to stomach and it is at least something to be prepared for.

On the whole I think Hacksaw Ridge is an excellent film that honors the brave men and women that fight for us every day whilst telling an incredible story of a genuine hero that deserves the accolades we can shower upon him. Desmond Doss is a real hero, and this film shows that. The direction is very well done, the film is impeccably acted, and it technically achieves heights that most war films fail to even consider reaching. This movie wrecked me emotionally and I think it will go down as one of the greats in a genre dominated by powerhouse films. A shoe in for an Oscar nomination in my book, this is a film people should rush out to see!

Hacksaw Ridge opens wide on November 4, 2016.

Ryan’s Score: 9.5/10

On a note unrelated to this review, I do want to make a quick comment about what many other reviewers have focused on with respect to this film: its deeply religious message. It didn’t appear in my review because I believe that if other reviewers were not aware that Mel Gibson (with all the baggage that name brings) directed this film they would not have brought it up either. There is indeed a deeply religious message and core to this movie but to say it damages or overpowers the main purposes of the film is incorrect in my view and is a tainting of some people’s views by considering the artist behind the art. The religious elements are there, however, which is the only reason I brought this up at all.

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