Hacksaw Ridge Review
There is definitely nobody in Hollywood quite like Mel Gibson. Personal life aside, I have liked many of his films, either as a director or actor. "Braveheart" is one of my favorite films of all time, hardwired into my psyche thanks to my dad. I don't care what anyone thinks of that, I will forever love the film and my mind won't change. "Apocalypto" was quite amazing in its own right too, but I didn't much care for "The Passion of the Christ." I think his films are interesting because he's tackled some kind of history in all of his films, he's made them all extremely bloody and even though he tries to aim for authenticity, the historical inaccuracies still bleed right through. His films sometimes feel like happy accidents, even though I have liked more films he's directed than I have disliked.
"Hacksaw Ridge" tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) a devout Christian who has a mighty fear of God after almost killing his brother as a child. He never once picked up a gun or a weapon of any kind growing up, and despite being brought up with an extremely abusive father (Hugo Weaving). As an adult, World War II hits home and his older brother volunteers. Despite his stance against violence, Doss volunteers for the army. But this comes with a twist, he will be a medic only and not carry a weapon into combat. This doesn't make him very popular with his bunkmates, but he eventually goes to war with no weapon. He saves a miraculous amount of lives and is the first man to be awarded with the Congressional Medal of Honor without firing a shot.
I think the movie Gibson was trying to make was to show us that courage can come in all forms, a brave man doesn't have to fire a weapon in combat, but bravery can come in many different forms. That's a thoughtful message, but I think that theme gets lost in Gibson's movie. His typical fetishes are on display here. I mean, why does every lead character in every Gibson movie have to have a weird dream? That essentially does nothing to progress the film? "Hacksaw Ridge" is also a movie that is filled with plot conveniences, nothing feels natural in this movie. Things just happen because the movie needs an accuse to get to Doss's big moments. I mean, pay close attention to the court marshall trial scene, how the scene resolves is so astoundingly ludicrous that I nearly bursted out laughing.
Vince Vaughn shows up as Doss's commanding officer, and while I think Vaughn has always had good comedic timing. He's supposed to be this intimidating figure, but the moments that fall the flattest are when he's trying to intimidate his men. It seems Vaughn is completely at odds with his character and his usual persona and his time on screen is, quite frankly, weird. Sam Worthington tries to make his time onscreen count, but he's playing a caricature not a character. Theresa Palmer plays the girl who Doss eventually marries, and she's just the typical mopey, wife-at-home. Andrew Garfield's performance itself is all-over-the-place. His southern accent makes him sound like a five year old boy. His characters personality changes feel forced and not natural. Garfield is trying to aim for some big emotional beats, but he ends up falling short every time. Its too bad, I have seen Garfield do good work before. I have seen "The Social Network" and "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus." But Garfield is starting to remind me of Mark Wahlberg a whole lot. You can tell when Garfield is trying and when he isn't, here he just isn't.
The war scenes are pretty top notch. They are exactly what you'd expect from Mel Gibson. Murky, muddy and full of blood. Gibson can still pull off visual thunder with his war scenes. These aren't standard action scenes, and they shouldn't be. I just wish the rest of his films fired on the same cylinders as his war scenes. The drama in the film feels so lifeless and it doesn't feel like a misstep Gibson would take. The characters are strangely stranded in a film that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. "Hacksaw Ridge" is at times fascinating, but those moments don't add up and only equate to a mess.
FINAL GRADE: C-