War movies have a relatively free source of emotion if they’re even decent. The natural feelings associated with brave men and women risking their lives for their country lend themselves to a powerful cinematic experience. Hacksaw Ridge manages to separate itself, to some degree, from the genre through the perspective of a nonviolent soldier. Desmond Doss isn’t naïve enough to think war is a peaceful thing. He simply believes he can contribute to a more peaceful part of the process by providing support as a medic.
It’s been a strong year for Andrew Garfield, as well as a religious one. His character is driven by faith and conviction. The entire first half of the film shows restraint, avoiding the horrors of war altogether. To his credit, director Mel Gibson takes the time to properly develop his lead character. Some of the romance storyline gets a bit corny, but Desmond is established as an atypically idealistic man. Hugo Weaving also hammers home some great dramatic moments that keep the screenplay grounded. Was he not nominated for anything? He should be nominated for things. Weaving was one of the better supporting performances of the year.
Long segments of Hacksaw Ridge are unnecessarily mean spirited but, since this was based on a true story, I can assume the seemingly excessive treatment towards Desmond is there for a reason. It doesn’t make for the most reasonable movie conflict, and it does become frustrating. But there are payoffs later on as the group becomes more of a brotherhood. Hacksaw Ridge often has a Rudy feel to it, one in which Rudy’s circumstances were significantly worse. There’s an underdog theme, a tenacious little protagonist, and Vince Vaughn isn’t a very nice guy. Vince Vaughn’s actually great in Hacksaw Ridge, which was a welcome return to form after he essentially ended True Detective. I could swear I even saw Sam Worthington cash in a quality performance.
Hacksaw Ridge certainly ramps up the intensity after almost lulling viewers into a false sense of security. The first half teeters between cute moments and the little soldier that could. Once we actually get to Hacksaw Ridge, however, limbs just explode across the screen. Mel Gibson knows how to correct lesser movies that make war out to be a fun time. The on-screen bromances are all fun and games, but this is as visceral a war sequence as I’ve seen in some time. Everyone’s either dismembered or on fire. I don’t mean to make any of it sound excessive or self-indulgent. Hacksaw Ridge is a very well directed and executed movie, one that pulls all the right heartstrings as audiences follow the undying effort of one man saving countless lives on the battlefield.
The film pushes principles, but does so with a respectfully positive message. And it’s tough to not root for Andrew Garfield and his sheepishly fearless attitude. During the credits, there’s an interview with the real Desmond Doss that actually enriched the entire experience for me. I had initially thought Garfield might’ve been overacting here and there but, as evidence suggests, Doss was just an eccentric and interesting guy. The man’s demeanor clashes against the style of a gritty war movie, which sometimes creates a weird on-screen vibe. But it seems to be an intentional angle taken by a different kind of war movie.
As far as awards go, Hacksaw Ridge is the type of movie that can make many lists but top none of them. Mel Gibson might’ve stood a punchers chance for a while, but some genius had to go make La La Land so that chance is shot. Andrew Garfield is good, but couldn’t even beat himself in Silence if it came down to that. Neither Andrew is beating Casey Affleck, anyway. And as much as I did love Hugo Weaving, as I always do, Mahershala Ali’s role in Moonlight is significantly more impactful. Hacksaw Ridge may go home empty handed, but it’s a strong depiction of an inspiring war hero.