REVIEW — “Hacksaw Ridge”
It’s been about ten years since Mel Gibson has been behind the camera, and nearly twenty since he’s made a film that I consider to be a classic that stands the test of time. I admired “Apocalypto” and I like aspects of “Passion of the Christ,” but I don’t find them to be perfect films or ones that are on the same caliber of “Bravehart”. Nonetheless, Gibson is undeniably talented, despite whatever personal issues you may have had with him. For Gibson to come out into the limelight in an age of social media and major blockbusters is a signal that he has made a film that has a story that he believes in. I went to see “Hacksaw Ridge” with pretty solid expectations, but here I am a few weeks later, unable to shake it from my head and soul. I walked out seeing what is easily Gibson’s best film since “Bravehart,” one of the best war films I’ve seen in my lifetime, and one of the absolute best films of 2016. “Hacksaw Ridge” is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It has truly stuck with me, and that has the makings of an all-time classic.
The film follows Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who has a traumatic experience with a near-death experience in the family at an early age. This puts him on a forward path toward pacifism and pure faith in his religion and beliefs. Throughout his life, he sees the effects of the war take on his father (Hugo Weaving) and the realities of violence. This only strengthens his ideals as he becomes a man, which leads him striving to make a difference in the war. Even though his fiance (Teresa Palmer), his family, and literally everyone else around him is telling him that he shouldn’t join the fight – he decides to enlist with one exception: he doesn’t want to carry a gun. Even medics carry guns with them, but Desmond only wants to help people. He knows the risks of going into a battlefield, but his urge to help people overcomes his terror. This provides grave complications for him, including a lengthy prison sentence and hatred from his fellow soldiers. In return, we get an emotionally complex and fully realized film.
Anyone worried about the religious themes in this movie should rest easy. I have absolutely no issue with religion or the concept of it being tackled in more mainstream films, but I’ve found that most directors who do it either tend to be too subtle or too overbearing with their themes. “Life of Pi” was the last truly great exploration of one’s beliefs, and now “Hacksaw Ridge” is a heart-pounding exploration into Desmond’s struggles to stay true to himself and his ethics, even when he’s seeing his friends and fellow soldiers slaughtered in front of him. This film is courageous and true in the purest ways, and it’s not only in part to the immersive direction from Mel Gibson, but an absolutely extraordinary performance by Andrew Garfield. He’s always been a talented actor, but “Hacksaw Ridge” is the perfect performance piece for him to truly show off all his chops. He exhibits Desmond’s struggles, pain, and everything inbetween in such a genuine way. The supporting cast such as Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, and a surprisingly great Vince Vaughn elevate this fantastically. Another surprising performance is from Hugo Weaving, who really shines in a heartbreaking role.
This has some of the most graphic and immersive war sequences I’ve seen on film in quite sometime. Truly, every shot fired is felt and every move that the enemy makes gives you a tremble down your spine. You get to see the war through Desmond’s eyes, which makes every soldier killed all the more heartbreaking. The cinematography and scope of each section of the film automatically makes it one of the most purely cinematic films of the year. Desmond going back to save the wounded, even after all the other soldiers leave, is one of the most heroic acts I’ve seen on film in years. Garfield’s performance when he pleads to his superiors to let him just save “one more” time after time hits you deeply. Every angle comes together beautifully to give you a powerful experience – the shots are gorgeous, the performances are powerful, the script is profound, the action sequences are brutally realistic, and the score swells you up and make you feel every bit of emotion that they want you to feel. This is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year. You’ll leave the theater wanting to be a better person. 5/5.