Mel Gibson has a certain penchant for being super-talented when stepping in front of and behind the camera but due to his past… indiscretions, he has tended to be a lot more successful behind it because quite frankly, no one can really buy him as a good guy character anymore. Personal opinions on that aside, Gibson has never directed a bad film. From a strong beginning with the emotional The Man Without a Face to violent epics like Braveheart, Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, I always look forward to another film from him no matter the plot. Hence, his next film – this wartime true story starring Andrew Garfield. Does it continue the hot streak?
Andrew Garfield stars as real-life soldier Desmond Doss, a pacifist who did not believe in violence but still went to war so that he could help out his fellow man as a field medic. As a young boy, he is involved in a near-fatal incident with his brother Hal when he strikes him with a brick and from that moment on, he swears that he will never committ a single act of violence or fire a weapon. As an adult, he meets a beautiful nurse (Teresa Palmer) before joining the army and dealing with all the criticisms that you would expect en route to him actually going to war.
Being that this film is based on a true story, the question that always comes to mind is if they’ve taken something interesting enough for a complete film adaptation. The answer is a resounding yes. The idea of a soldier going into battle with no weapon because of their personal convictions is strong enough on its own but to also explore Garfield’s backstory as a child only adds to the layers of character development for him. You do get some familiar story arcs here with the violent, alcoholic father and the doting mother but they’re not played as one-dimensional as usual. The father, played by Hugo Weaving, has been dangerous in the past before but above all else, he is still a loving father and still means well for the most part, which you see through his actions later in the film.
Another thing I appreciated is that although this is a “war film,” the first half of the film is mostly focused on his life at home combined with his basic training where the issue of him not wanting to fire a weapon takes center stage. The elements of romance and courtroom drama are effortlessly interwoven into the plot and you almost forget about the true brutality of war… that is until the absolutely intense nature of the battle scenes (which I’ll get into in the bottom section). Oh, and as a side note: I have made it flagrantly obvious several times that I am a die-hard atheist and I despised God’s Not Dead 2 but stressed that it was because of the story. Well, here you go folks. This movie is flanked by Christianity being one of the reasons behind Garfield’s convictions and I have absolutely no problem with it because it’s a damn good film. See? It can be done.
Andrew Garfield is a triumph in the title role. He is completely convincing as a good ol’ southern boy and he exudes a certain confidence but also sheepish charm that he first showed off when he took over the role of Spider-Man. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear his name come up when awards season starts next year. Teresa Palmer is good as the love interest even if she doesn’t have a very big role. Still, her romance with Garfield is believable and I enjoyed the fact that they didn’t do the break up/make up thing that you see in every single film with a romance plot. It was so nice to see Vince Vaughn in a role where he wasn’t leading a comedy with his rapid-fire dialogue that has gotten somewhat old in recent years. Here he plays a stern drill sergeant but one with the ability to connect with the soldiers in a very human way. Vaughn pulls it off quite well. As mentioned earlier, Hugo Weaving plays Garfield’s father and does so in a non-cliched manner. As I said earlier, Weaving is not playing a perfect father but he also has moments where you can truly see that there is some love for his family especially in a harrowing scene where he learns that his son, Hal has decided to go to war.
Most of the movie is filmed in a very realistic manner but the way in which the battle scenes are shot is simply stunning. They reminded me of the opening moments of Saving Private Ryan in the infamous Normandy Beach attack and had a similar impact. We witness the brutal slaying of soldiers from both sides of the war (American and Japanese) and the movie pulls no punches when it comes to blood and guts. The gore effects are very well-done as Gibson always seems to employ the right people to do this for his movies (Passion of the Christ comes to mind).
A terrific film with a strong lead performance and some great source material to draw from, Hacksaw Ridge will no doubt entertain and move viewers on an emotional level as well.
FINAL RATING: ****
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)