Review: Hacksaw Ridge Is An Important Story Kneecapped By Its Director
Title: Hacksaw Ridge
Director: Mel Gibson
Summary: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
The expression is ‘actions speak louder than words’ and we all know what it means. Someone can say they believe in something or they want to do something over and over again but unless they actually do it the words are meaningless. Words can be powerful tools but they can only do some much. The idea that someone would have the courage to stand by their convictions in a war zone when those convictions involve passim is commendable, a true story I hadn’t heard of until I saw Hawksaw Ridge. War movies are notorious for being Oscar bait and a good true story doesn’t always make a good movie.
Hacksaw Ridge tells an important and interesting story but director Mel Gibson decided Desmond Doss’ actions weren’t loud enough for him.
Mel Gibson is not known for being subtle in his movies. The allusions in movies such as Braveheart, The Patriot, and The Passion of the Christ were about as subtle as a two by four to the face. That doesn’t mean that lack of subtlety is good or bad it’s just that sometimes it isn’t needed. In this case Gibson decided that his audience wouldn’t be able to understand the religious overtones of this movie without a bunch of hackneyed and sometimes very problematic imagery that wasn’t needed. Army Medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was a man whose actions spoke volumes. We are watching the story of a man who is going into one of the bloodiest battles in World War II without a gun. That sort of thing speaks volumes (use other words, used speaks volumes already) and even after the first time he sees battle he still refuses to pick up a gun.
The best moments in the movie are the moments that aren’t dripping with religious symbolism such as when Doss loses a member of his unit and is reluctant to retreat with the rest of the forces with an artillery strike. As the world explodes around him he asks God why he’s here and what he is supposed to do. Instead of something such as the clouds parting and Doss acting like he actually hears God speaking to him, he hears a wounded soldiers shouting ‘medic’ and that is the answer he needed. Doss then goes back into the battle, alone, and drags seventy-five men to the ridge and lowers them down to safety while whispering ‘please, God, let me get one more’ which is a great way of showing how steadying Doss’ faith is without being entirely obvious about it.
All of these great moments are undercut by imagery and scenes that are so over the top that someone who had never heard of religion would have caught the intention. There is the extremely problematic scene of watching Doss get saved while a Japanese general commits seppuku that was almost cringe worthy and Doss being lowered down the ridge while staring at the sky. Gibson doesn’t know how to be subtle, he had a movie where an American soldier literally stabs a British officer with the American flag, so this isn’t surprising, but it does make the movie frustrating. The worst part is the cast is extremely good with this being one of the few times Sam Worthington had real screen presence and you care about Vince Vaughn, but it’s all undercut by the over the top imagery. The battles are brutal and the movie doesn’t shy away from the violence but it’s nothing we haven’t seen in Saving Private Ryan.
Hacksaw Ridge is an important story about an amazing human being that didn’t need to be dramatized to such a degree. The actions that Doss took were loud and compelling enough that they could have stood on their own. This is a man that deserved a better movie.