Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Hacksaw Ridge is a great war film filled with good acting performances and realistic battle sequences.
Over the years, many war films have come out in theaters and blew away audiences with its realistic, gritty war scenes. Movies like Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Fury (2014) didn’t shy away from presenting how authentic and devastating the wars were for the soldiers and their families. Fortunately, Hacksaw Ridge takes the same approach, and thus, leaves viewers spellbound by many of the scenes presented onscreen.
Hacksaw Ridge tells the true-life tale of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who enlisted into the army as a combat medic to save the lives of people who fell on the battlefield. Although Desmond enlists to help people, he refuses to hold a weapon and to kill anyone. His stern beliefs lead him to bump heads with his superior officers Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), respectively. As Desmond receives criticism from his commanding officers, he also must deal with verbal and physical abuse from his comrades. Desmond endures the pain for some time and just when he looks like he is going to pass basic training, he is convicted of disobeying orders, which leads him to being locked up in military prison. Through some luck, Desmond is relieved of all charges and is granted to go into the battlefield without a single weapon to protect him.
Without a weapon, Desmond goes into the battlefield with his comrades to face the Japanese. With quick thinking, he treats the wounded. But, since he lacks a weapon by his side, will Desmond survive the dangers that lie on the battlefield?
Mel Gibson, who is known for directing movies Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, steps into the director’s chair after ten years and delivers one of the best war films of recent years. Hacksaw Ridge is a well-filmed movie with great sequences of war violence. Aside from the controversy that surrounds him, Gibson proves that he is still a great director.
The filmmaker depicts the war in an authentic way. Many of the battle scenes show soldiers being killed by guns, by explosives, and by fire. For the ones who do survive, they either lose arms or legs. This amount of violence in the film may disturb viewers, but the ones who can handle it will be floored by the film’s proceedings. Overall, the film successfully captures the brutalities of war and its effects on people.
While viewers may appreciate the great depictions of war, others may criticize Desmond’s religious beliefs. Desmond is a Christian who believes in God. He reads the Bible every day, and he prays over his comrades. Throughout the film, Desmond expresses his feelings about avoiding the use of guns at all costs. He states that he made a promise to God to not kill anyone. Since the film shows him talk about his beliefs a lot, viewers may feel the film is trying to persuade people into learning more about Christianity. Christianity is a common theme in the film, but it is a theme used in showing Desmond’s true motivations. As a tool, the religion underlies not only Desmond’s beliefs, but also his actions. Because the movie takes the time to flesh him out as a character, viewers can understand the reasons behind his actions.
Script-wise, the screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan fully fleshes out Desmond and his family, but not the minor characters. The film is divided into two sections: the first half shows Desmond growing into the man he becomes, meeting and falling in love with Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), and encountering obstacles during his time in basic training; the second half reveals the soldiers mounting the battlefield, fighting against the Japanese, and rushing to safety. In the first half, Desmond’s life is shown from childhood to adulthood. As a young boy, he learned to not be violent. When he was older, he discovered he wanted to help people. This section of the film shows viewers everything they need to know about Desmond. Desmond’s father Tom Doss (played excellently by Hugo Weaving), who has PTSD, is a drunk and because of his time in the war, hates the fact that Desmond enlisted. Because viewers understand the tragedies associated with war, they will understand why Tom acts the way he does. Aside from Desmond and his father Tom, none of the other characters are given a lot of characterization. Brief backgrounds are given to Dorothy and Desmond’s rival turned ally Smitty—who are played skillfully by Teresa Palmer and Luke Bracey, respectively. However, more characterization of the supporting characters would have benefited the movie, especially in the battle scenes.
If viewers could get to know the characters more, some of their deaths would have been more shocking to watch. Understandably, since Desmond is the main character of the film, it makes sense why a lot of screen time would go to him. Consequently, without enough background and characterizations of the fallen soldiers, they become throw-away characters. The impact of the finale Gibson and the writers were hoping for hits, but doesn’t hit as hard as the gruesome finales of war films such as Saving Private Ryan and Fury. Nevertheless, Hacksaw Ridge contains a lot of shocking, horrendous scenes to leave an impact on viewers long after they have left the theater.
On an acting level, all actors deliver solid performances in their roles. Andrew Garfield trades in his Spider-Man suit for a soldier’s uniform to play the humble Desmond Doss. His accent may take a while to get used to, but viewers won’t have to worry. Garfield brings gravitas and charm to the role, revealing to audiences that he is a talented actor. As Dorothy, Palmer is beautiful, supportive, and sympathetic. With the amount of screen time she’s given, Palmer pulls off a great supporting performance. Furthermore, actors Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn shine in their roles. Worthington has received a lot of negative backlash for his wooden performances, but he delivers one of his best performances yet. As Captain Glover, he is strong-willed and determined to keep his men protected. Since the role calls for Worthington to be stoic in some situations, it works to the actor’s range; nevertheless, Worthington reveals fear and desperation behind his eyes, showing viewers a captain who is afraid of how he and his soldiers will fare out in this war. Vince Vaughn steps into the dramatic film genre to play Sergeant Howell. As Howell, Vaughn is an effective leader of the troops. With Vaughn in the role, he incorporates humor in with the dramatic scenes, which keeps the film from being too dour. Thanks to the talented actors, they inhabit and pay their respects to their real-life counterparts.
Despite its flaws, Hacksaw Ridge is an entertaining war action-drama with great acting performances and well-filmed action sequences.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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