Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Next time Mel Gibson turns down a script twice, do whatever you have to do MAKE him take it on the third try, because the first time this happened resulted in a pretty good flick called Braveheart. The second time, Hacksaw Ridge, turns out to be pretty much on par.
Hacksaw Ridge is brought to you by a director who may or may not have gone completely insane, whose name is so rarely uttered these days that he has basically become Hollywood's equivalent of Lord Voldemort. Joining him are renowned actors such as Andrew Garfield, our previous Spider-man; Vince Vaughn, your clichéd go-to guy for uninspiring comic relief who has the potential to single-handedly derail the entire movie; Sam Worthington, that Avatar dude that Hollywood attempted to force-feed us a few years back; Luke Bracey and Teresa Palmer, bundle pack from 2015's so-forgettable-I've-already-forgotton Point Break remake; and Hugo Weaving, who is always entertaining and definitely needs to be in more movies.
And what do you know? All of them were brilliant in this movie, which, by the way, is a modern war film instant classic. So for a quick recap. Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a WWII American medic who refused to carry any weapon and ended up rescuing at least 75 fellow soldiers. For a story that begs Oscar favors, I am shocked that this movie took so long to manifest. But judging from the final product, the only real pity is that the real Desmond Doss is no longer around to give his own opinion.
If you manage to find the very few negative criticisms towards the movie, most of them would be diverted to two issues: over-preaching and glorifying violence. Yet the truth is such issues are likely raised by those who only watched the movie (if at all) to look for these two factors, because it's the wacko director from The Passion of the Christ taking on a source material that's both religious and violent.
As a non-Christian and frankly non-religious person, I am happy to report that the message is as inspiring as it is resounding, and that's what I love the most about Hacksaw Ridge. I don't have to believe in Christianity to appreciate his devotion to his faith, because at its core, it's a story about sticking to what you believe in, and it's relatable to all of us. I don't have to be an American to admire his courage and incredible dedication because in the end, it's about putting the value of life above all else, also relatable to all of us.
Perhaps a religious person or someone otherwise different from me will receive a totally different message from the movie, and that's great, that's why it's such a smart way to tell the story. Instead of preaching us the ideology of our hero, which could have gone very wrong because it is an odd one, the movie treats us as intelligent individuals that (hopefully) we are, and trust us to translate it into something positive.
Now about the violence. This movie has a very clear-cut first half and second half, with the former depicting his family relationship, his forming of faith, a whimsical love story and his alienation and suffering at the camp. The second half arrives with a bang, quite literally, and from that point on it's brutality nothing held back. There will be blood, there will be broken limbs, there will be intestines and rats, and corpses, and rats eating corpses, you name it!
That being said, should it have been otherwise? Would it have been a better story if Doss rescued one more, and one more, and one more amidst rainbow and tulips? Heck no! Given the subject matter, the violence depicted in the movie is fairly appropriate. War is bloody and violent. This happened, and it wasn't pretty, and it would be injustice to Doss's legacy if the story was tamed. There is no glorification, on the contrary, it looks horrifying.
Should we judge a directors' directing ability by how well he brings out the talents of his actors, then Mel Gibson is a strong contender for Best Director this year. Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, all of them brought their A-game and delivered the best performances of their careers. Who'd have thought? Sam Worthington? First Jai Courtney in Suicide Squad now this? We really shouldn't be too quick to judge.
But one person stole the show among this stellar ensemble for me, and it was Hugo Weaving playing Doss's father, a traumatized, alcoholic, pessimistic, abusive but at the same time loving father. It's as complicated a personality as you can get, and despite his many flaws, I find myself sympathizing with him even though he's frequently on the opposite side of our hero. Once again, dear Hollywood, more Hugo Weaving in...everything! Pretty please?
Since this is a review, I feel somewhat obligated to nitpick some negativity out of Hecksaw Ridge, but the truth is I can't think of any. However I cannot, in good conscience, give it a perfect score, merely on the basis that my 10/10s are going to be jealously preserved for the special few, and perhaps because the movie's ending is by no means any surprise (it's a true story, after all), my inner exclamation was limited to "what a great story" and "what a great man", but not quite up to the "stunned from the moviemaking perspective" sensation that I received from the likes of Birdman or The Revenant.
Overall, it's a fantastic movie recommended to everybody on the planet (or the slightly less who get to read this). Final score: 9/10.