It’s been 10 years since audiences have watched a Mel Gibson-directed in movie in theaters and it seems the 60-year-old controversial director has missed a step or two between feature films. Hacksaw Ridge is a very old-fashioned movie, but it’s juiced up with modern Hollywood action with bloody and hellish wartime battle scenes. It seems to be at odds with itself.
The movie follows U.S. Army medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a Christian man from Virginia who signs up to join the army during World War II, while also being a conscientious objector who refused to bear arms during basic training and battle. Based on a true story, Doss received the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa at Hacksaw Ridge.
Although Desmond Doss is a true blue American hero, Gibson paints him in a very broad brush, while conveying, what seems to be, two ideas: taking a human being’s life is wrong and the worst thing you can do and…hey, isn’t violently killing people during a war really, really cool! It’s hard to convey pacifism and the beliefs of Christianity during World War II, but Gibson seems to be taking so much glee and excitement during Hacksaw Ridge’s battle scenes. It gets to the point of sadistic, especially how the movie is bookended. It seems that Gibson wanted to make a movie about Doss, but also wanted to make stylized battle scenes with glossy slow motion techniques that rivals something from a Zack Snyder movie.
Hacksaw Ridge is also separated into two parts, which feels like a movie and its sequel. The beginning features Doss meeting his future wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), going through basic training, and then finally getting court martialed for not taking orders from his superiors. Doss doesn’t want to touch a gun because of his beliefs. He comes from an abusive family, and his father (Hugo Weaving) who knows all too well the horrors of war after serving during World War I. After being beaten as a child and almost killing his brother and father himself, Doss vows to never touch a gun again.
The first part builds to Doss’s court martial, where he doesn’t get discharged or imprisoned. He, instead, is sent to the Pacific war front to fight without a rifle or knife by his side to protect him. The second part, which is gleefully violent, features the actual war as Doss saves the lives of his fellow soldiers. It’s strange because the first part doesn’t really inform much of the second. You can watch either part as a standalone and not really miss much when it comes to character or story, which is an odd play to me.
While Andrew Garfield does a suitable job in this role, much of the movie seems to be wildly miscast, namely Vince Vaughn as a tough guy drill sergeant. As soon as he appears on the screen, I couldn’t help but laugh, as if I was watching a sketch on Saturday Night Live. He’s too ingrained in comedy and doesn’t do an effective job to convince me otherwise. In addition, Palmer is too much of an afterthought, while Weaving is really chewing the scenery as a drunken army vet from the South. Again, much of the movie is just too broad for my taste.
Overall, the movie doesn’t add up to much. It’s a violent and bloody war movie about peace and the sanctity of human life, until it’s about how thrilling it would be to take away said life in a very Hollywood way. But it did live up to its title, there was a Hacksaw Ridge…so there’s that going for it.