There aren’t that many films around these days that genuinely give me the feels. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve just seen too many movies and am familiar with the regular tropes at play, or I’m just a heartless shit who feels nothing, but the statement still stands. For a film to genuinely engage me in the fates of its characters when they’re faced with mortal peril and actually have me care about who lives or dies is an achievement in my book. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t too bothered about seeing this film, but it sure is worth a look. Bring on awards season for Hacksaw Ridge, because I’m predicting a few wins for this baby!
Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield – receiving a nomination for best actor in a leading role), a pacifist, devout Christian (Seventh-day Adventist) and the first conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honour during WW2 (awarded for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty) in recognition for saving the lives of 75 men. We see the development of his character from young boy to idealistic young man who wishes to serve in the army as a medic, refusing to bear arms for reasons we discover. The supporting cast includes Teresa Palmer as Dorothy, Desmond’s bride to be; Hugo Weaving as his troubled father and jaded veteran of WW1; Sam Worthington as Captain Glover and Vince Vaughn as Sergeant Howell. Vaughn was perhaps the most surprising performance for me. Let’s face it, he’s turned in some lousy movies over his career, excelling in comedy roles for the most part. Here though, he is quite excellent. Not often you hear that. Here, his performance is not played for laughs, but he certainly has some fun with it in scenes that almost certainly pay homage to Full Metal Jacket.
Now, Mel Gibson might be a bit… kooky (putting it mildly there – he’s pretty fucking nuts sometimes), but can the man direct? Hell yes, he can direct and more than earns his nomination for best directing at this year’s Academy Awards. Say what you like about the man, it’s hard to deny he’s got talent. This is a pretty stunning piece of cinema in a visual sense and portrays the horrors of war in a way that hasn’t engaged me this much since Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998). The colour palette is awash with rich, earthy tones, which almost lends an air of whimsical nostalgia to the opening half of the film, before our boys are thrust into the Battle of Okinawa in Japan and the shit hits the proverbial fan. The action is grounded and gritty, bullets ripping through the scenes thick and fast, punctuated by the deep rumbles of the constant explosions occurring across the battlefield. The sound design is quite spectacular and has you on the edge of your seat during the scenes of conflict, largely because it feels like you’re fucking there and it’s honestly a bit terrifying (yep, it’s nominated for sound editing and mixing as well – deservedly so).
In terms of what I didn’t enjoy here, there were really only two minor things: firstly, the opening act of the film felt a little rushed to me, despite the lengthy running time. Not in a bad way, but I would have liked to have seen the romance between Desmond and Dorothy blossom at a little more of a leisurely (and realistic) pace. It just sort of happens and Dorothy is largely forgotten about… and obviously the romance is not the focus here (Lessons learned from Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour (2001) perhaps?) but it felt a little quick for me. Secondly, there is a strong hammering home of those pesky religious overtones here. Now, I make no secret of it: I’m an Atheist. Stone me if you will, I’m I fucking degenerate, but I don’t mind a religious message to a piece of art. I’m a pretty tolerant one, I’d say, so long as you don’t rub it all over my face… Mel Gibson’s very big on it though and that fact shows here. The real-world Desmond Doss was too, in fairness, but there’s A LOT of it here, which works for the most part, being true to the character, but felt a little strained and cringe-worthy to me at times. Hinting at Doss as a kind of messiah-like figure in particular was something I didn’t really appreciate. I get it, Gibson, you love some o’ that sweet Jesus. Disclaimer: I do not hate religion or religious sorts. Obvs. I just don’t like it when it appears forced.
Now those are hardly major criticisms are they? Now as for what I did like… you got pretty much everything else. The immersion you get with the combat. The characterisation of the men within Doss’ unit and his commanding officers. The location designs. The practical and special effects. Hugo Weaving being awesome as usual, and yeah, the feels. This movie hits you where you live at its conclusion. I looked around and noticed several people welling up and sobbing lightly when the lights came up. And you know what? I love that. I love how movies CAN still get a reaction from people. You can get sucked into a different time or place and forget about the shit going on in the outside world for a bit (and get to focus on the shit that happened during the 40s instead). And to come out and have been affected by the art is a solid bonus, honestly.
This genuinely had me questioning whether or not I’d have signed up to the army had I been alive at the time. It also makes you think about how terrifying the reality of the war was, compared to the glossy and heroic image it received at home – the boys arriving in high spirits only to be met with the countless bloodied corpses of those who perished being carted back to base camp is a poignant moment for sure. Couple that with the sheer devastation that occurs during combat, limbs flying, men screaming, rats and maggots feasting on the deceased and a definite sense that there’s a bullet out there with your name on it and you got yourself a film with a strong emotional impact right here. The fact that these scenes look and sound fantastic to boot elevates this film and makes you see why it has received its several Oscar nods. And we have to talk about Andrew Garfield as well. Dude can act. I thought his accent would get annoying. It doesn’t. He is believable in this role and you feel empathy for his character and his situation. What more can you ask of the guy?
In short, I’m a bit late getting this review out, but if you’ve got the time to catch this movie before the Oscars, do so. It’s honestly pretty great, despite a couple of hiccups here and there. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t pick up an award or two on the 26th Feb.
Thanks for glancing at this little article, Dawg! Have you seen this movie already? What did you think of it? Would you have signed up for the war?… As always, any constructive criticism or comments are very much appreciated. Follow me on Twitter @snakeintheplane for updates on whatever other crap I might be writing about and I’ll see you guys when we take a look at the next Snake in the Plane!