What is it?
The true story of a medic who served without a rifle during WWII.
Who’s it for?
Mel Gibson fans, military history buffs, 7th Day Adventists and people who like flamethrowers.
Hacksaw Ridge is not the return to form I hoped for from Mel Gibson. The film is an independently produced religious movie dressed up as a war picture. Gibson’s direction brings the grittiness while keeping the nobility of the anti-war message intact. However, the low budget and hackneyed script keep it from being one of his better outings as a director.
The film plays in split halves following Desmond Doss before and during his time in the army. The pre-war scenes are largely a bore. The script is amateurish at times. There are scenes with very little conflict and Doss wants nothing but a date for the first half of the picture. The performances elevate the material, but not much. There are bright spots of conflict with Doss’ father, played by Hugo Weaving and a small romance that provides a moment for Andrew Garfield to be both pleasant and creepy. Garfield’s performance is the strongest, as he gets to play the oddball. The bootcamp scenes are treated as an homage to Full Metal Jacket. Vince Vaughn takes on the R. Lee Ermy part. It’s cringe worthy.
When the war scenes come they’re welcome. Here is where the bulk of the budget was spent. Gibson does a marvelous job with flamethrowers and pyrotechnics. It’s a ballet of death. The film reveals visual themes that paint the Battle of Okinawa as a journey into hell. The Japanese famously hid themselves under ground and it’s used to good thematic effect. Desmond Doss journeyed into the underworld to save lost souls who were trapped under enemy fire. He did it with bravery and selflessness. This is where the film shines. Gibson does what he has so well in films like The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto – he makes you feel with images instead of chatter.
Hacksaw Ridge is an exploration of personal values and the commitment a person makes to uphold those values. Doss repeatedly encountered rigid points of view that were opposed to his way of thinking. He was ridiculed, but ultimately he’s been proven noble and courageous. This is a message movie. It uses religious symbolism to evoke heaven and hell and it makes the point that redemption comes in the end for those who keep the faith. The message is strong, but the film could have used a rewrite and another $40 million up on screen.