By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Four Beers) –
Desmond Doss was a concientious objector, a member of the Seventh Day Adventist faith who did not believe in using guns. Nevertheless, when he came of age he enlisted in the Military, as it was WWII and he wanted to serve his country. Braving months of torment for his anti-violence stance, he found the respect of his comrades owing to his work as a field medic, saving the lives of many with numerous acts of bravery being attributed to him. Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Doss’s life leading up to the war, and of a singular act of bravery he performed that saved the lives of over 75 of his fellow soldiers. The road from alleged coward to proven hero is a long one.
Hacksaw Ridge falls short of being a great war film, but has some admirable traits. Andrew Garfield delivers a solid performance as Desmond Doss, who plays Doss like a true idealist, unshakable in his beliefs. Hugo Weaving is particularly impressive as Doss’s alcoholic father, a war veteran who takes his anger out on his family. Weaving doesn’t play the role one-dimensionally, as the humanity in his father is evident from the first time you see him. But he’s a broken and traumatized man in a time where displaying those traits was frowned upon. Vince Vaughn proves that he can do quite well in dramatic roles, despite his typecast as a comedian roots.
The film features some genuinely unsettling visuals in the final battle sequence; Mel Gibson upps the ante on the violence factor once again. Seemingly every Gibson-directed film features a new level of brutality, and this one is no exception. Bodies are strewn about the battlefield- some dead, some mangled and writhing. This contrasts starkly with the clean-cut, sanitized visuals early in the film, a decision no doubt made to enhance the impact of the second half.
Director Mel Gibson knows how to tug at heartstrings and make a film that appeals to broad audiences.
The first step is getting a heroic character who the audience immediately feels sympathy for, and making no attempts to do anything risky like making that character seem flawed in any obvious ways. If it weren’t for a stellar performance by Andrew Garfield, who manages to keep Doss interesting throughout even though his character is utterly lacking an arc, this would be a much bigger problem. Gibson tries to give Doss a bit of an arc with an early scene showing Doss as a child being violent to his brother, but the film jumps 15 years ahead right after that sequence and leaves little connection between child-actor Doss and the Doss played by Garfield.
The film is full of stock war film clichés, most notably introducing a diverse squad of recruits, all from different ethnic backgrounds. The majority of the soldiers in this film are so monochromatic that it becomes difficult to even remember who is who. This is exacerbated by Director Gibson’s decision to do yet another time jump to get to the climactic hour-long battle sequence, because of which any possibility of getting to know these characters is rendered impossible.
Hacksaw Ridge sadly contains several tension-breaking moments that happen at moments meant to be high drama. As an example, in the scene where Doss and his squad venture into enemy territory for the first time in the film, a soldier sees a presumably dead American GI who in perfect jump-scare fashion sits up and screams unexpectedly, causing a bullet to fire through his skull and into the body of the soldier who startled him. What should have been a moment of macabre horror comes off comically overbearing and cartoonish. Shortly thereafter a character picks up a limbless corpse and uses it as a bullet shield.
Hacksaw Ridge tells a compelling true war story, by using tired and decidedly less than compelling warfilm clichés. For a better glimpse at the horrors of the Pacific Theater, check out HBO’s The Pacific. For a better movie about a religious war hero, watch Sergeant York (1941).
Hacksaw Ridge (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every Christ visual metaphor
Take a Drink: for every stock war film ethnic stereotype
Do a Shot: anytime someone calls Doss a coward
Take a Drink: for exploded bodies