Hacksaw Ridge (2016) Review: A Movie For Everyone, And No One
The world has no shortage of war films. Additionally there is no shortage of world war II films. Yet ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is just that. A World War II film that in fact, has a story worth telling. I suppose one more couldn’t hurt. The story is of US army medic Desmond Doss. A trained soldier, who believes in the fight against Nazi Germany, but he only has one condition. No guns.
Immediately that sounds a little more than problematic on the battlefield. It’s what makes ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ such a compelling story. Desmond believes no man should take the life of another, as intended by God. A gun is built for just that. A killing machine. The movie spends a great part of its run-time watching Desmond defend his beliefs to his superiors. Suffering the contempt of his fellow soldiers in the process.
The brilliance in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is its brutality. At the very first scene there are shots of men with flaming sleeves, running in terror. Screaming. When a soldier is shot, the camera picks up every gory detail. The movie immerses you in the horrific details, that prompted a few in the audience to turn away. I can’t think of a better way to convince you of the main character’s conviction. You feel the same way about violence as he does by the end of the movie. It’s the Battlefield 1 of movies.
Unfortunately the film isn’t always that subtextual. There are several points that feel inauthentic. The type of dramatization peppered in to make a true story more like a movie. These moments weren’t bad, they just didn’t feel earned. They made the characters feel fake, when they’d felt so real. More often than not though it hits the mark, with those points disrupting the illusion, only momentarily.
The message of Hacksaw of course depends on you. You could apply it to any plight that you feel in your heart of hearts. I did get the feeling however that ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ was a movie for people who’d felt like their religious views had come under attack in recent years. Particularly those shopkeepers and cake makers refusing to cater a gay wedding. Then again, it goes to the other side as well, with a movie for those that are anti-gun. Somehow ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a movie where bleeding heart liberals, and gun toting conservatives are both the hero and the villain, so it’s for everyone and no one. Who would make such a divisive movie?
Leading the cast is Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss himself. He’s perfect for the childlike innocence that Doss carries, and switches on the humility when it’s time to show his respect for human life. The most inspired casting of ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, comes with Nathaniel Buzolic. He play’s Hal Doss, Desmond’s brother, which is fitting because I’m now convinced Buzolic and Garfield are in fact related. The same squinty eyes, bushy eyebrows and extended jaw. This is the most inspired familial casting since Ice Cube hired his son to play himself.
Credit to Vince Vaughn as well. He plays the drill sergeant that suffers the inconvenience of a soldier who won’t handle a rifle. I give credit because often times for an actor like Vaughn, it can be a distraction to have them play so against type. Initially I expected to see his particular brand of improv, but instead, he sold me on his performance. I took him seriously the entire way through.
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a movie for anyone who has felt outcast. It captures the feeling of having to defend your values, and standing by your convictions. Looking left, when everyone is telling you to look right. It’s brutal. Tense. Even frightening at points. It’s best moments are its realism, as it sells you on a story that seems impossible. Though it dips into moments of dramatic fantasy, it doesn’t take away from the whole, satisfying picture. One you should see on the big screen.
Rating: Big Screen Watch