Hacksaw Ridge is Moving, but Slightly Underwhelming [Review]
Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Robert Schenkkan, Randall Wallace, Andrew Knight, Bill Mechanic
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn
Running time 138 minutes
R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was raised a 7th Day Adventist with a traumatized World War 1 veteran and alcoholic father, Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving), to believe that killing for any reason was absolutely wrong. When World War 2 broke out Desmond felt he had an absolute duty to serve, but as a conscientious objector, he would serve with no weapon as an army medic. Desmond fought his way through basic training where his conviction to refuse to carry, use, or even touch a weapon was constantly challenged by Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), even enduring a full court-martial. After finally having his rights to serve as a conscientious objector as a medic, Desmond was deployed with his unit to the front lines of Okinawa. During the battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of World War 2, Desmond Doss, rescued over 75 men single handed , while continuing to take fire. His heroic action earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Hacksaw Ridge is an incredibly moving and fascinating film with an incredible story, and well-chosen cast. On a technical level, the film has flaws that keep it from being truly outstanding, and some direction choices were too heavy-handed highlighting Gibson’s weakness as a director. The bad does not fully cancel the great, but I cannot help wonder what we could have seen in the hands of a more stable and experienced director. What we really have with Hacksaw Ridge is an incredible story, performed by a stellar cast, in a well-made movie with significant flaws that a better director would have easily avoided. One major problem I have with the film is the lack of an ending. Choosing to cut to a postscript and interview footage rather than conclude the narrative is jarring and robs the film of a satisfying conclusion. This is something of a pet peeve of mine with historical drama, and biopics. Show us how it ends, do not just tell the audience. Using your postscript to add historical weight, or to add information that is relevant, but do not use it to end the story. I feel this is an unforgivable sin for a director to commit, and it shortchanges the audience.
Where the audience was not let down is the earnestness with which the often-brutal subject matter was presented. There was no attempt to shield the appalling violence of the battle, or to overplay the horrific gore for shock value. While for some that may be difficult to watch, I believe most will be able to understand the historic context enough to see the horror as an integral part of the narrative. With striking imagery, heroically human and flawed characters it is very easy to see this film become an enduring testament to the actions of an amazingly selfless man under unbelievably horrific conditions.