Release Date: Nov. 4, 2016
Running Time: 138 minutes
It’s easy to understand why Mel Gibson’s found a kindred spirit in World War II conscientious objector Desmond Doss, the subject of Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson’s first directorial effort since his 2006 masterpiece Apocalypto. The US Army medic was initially treated as a coward and a pariah because of the religious beliefs he harbored that informed his refusal to bear arms. One of Hollywood’s most prominent conservatives and Catholics, Gibson came under fire for The Passion of the Christ, which endured early accusations of antisemitism, and he continues to struggle to put behind his past personal controversies that has severely impacted his acting career. Unlike the docile Doss of Hacksaw Ridge, who wants to be part of a greater cause but only on his own terms, Gibson’s continued projection of a “Me vs. Them” attitude hasn’t allowed Hollywood to fully reembrace a superstar it treat as an invaluable commodity for almost three decades. Gibson, though, clearly identifies with Doss. In Hacksaw Ridge, the Andrew Garfield-portrayed Doss stands firm and tall in his beliefs, even if it means taking a few beatings to prove himself in the eyes of his doubters. The difference, though, is that Doss is forgiven in Hacksaw Ridge by those who questioned while courage while Gibson remains something of a pariah of his own making. With a screenplay credited to Andrew Knight and former Austinite Robert Schenkkan, Hacksaw Ridge is your standard-issue war drama that draws a firm demarcation point between the necessity of basic training and the horrors of combat. The first part of Hacksaw Ridge is poorly written, overwrought with emotion, and blighted by the over-the-top Hugo Weaving as Doss’ father, a boozy, abusive and traumatized World War I veteran, and the underwhelming Teresa Palmer as Doss’ empathetic fiancée. Gibson can’t overcome the weaknesses of the hackneyed script, so the first half of Hacksaw Ridge feels like he’s channeling Richard Attenborough at his most awkward and mawkish. Its only redeeming moments come from Vince Vaughn, who suppresses his patented wise-guy persona to make Doss’ drill sergeant as intimidating as necessary while also expressing natural concern and confusion that Doss’ presence may result in the unnecessarily sacrifice of his men in combat. The second half of Hacksaw Ridge is pure Gibson. Freed of all necessary exposition, Gibson offers close to an hour of non-stop combat that rivals anything staged in Saving Private Ryan. Gibson doesn’t hold back from showing the violence and brutality that occurred during the Battle of Okinawa on the Japanese island in 1945. Gibson takes us into the thick of battle to ensure we fully understand and appreciate how Doss earned a Medal of Honor for saving the lives of 75 wounded men. While stateside, Garfield seems more of a goofball than a future hero despite his deep religious convictions and desire to serve his country. He also wears a smirk during basic training that understandable rubs everyone up the wrong way. The smirk disappears when Doss’ unit joins the Battle of Okinawa. Garfield finds his focus and convincingly articulates Doss’ beliefs when he’s required to put them into action. Gibson fills Hacksaw Ridge with as much religious imagery as possible—none more obvious or clichéd than a wounded Doss lying in a stretcher that’s left dangling in midair while being lowered from the top of a cliff to the ground. This doesn’t prove too much of a distraction given all the other problems that inform the first half of Hacksaw Ridge and the carnage that occurs during the second half. While Gibson’s intention with Hacksaw Ridge is clear, that even conscientious objectors can conduct themselves heroically in battle while observing their beliefs, he never makes it clear whether he’s making an anti-war film. He doesn’t argue question the decision by the United States to enter World War II. If anything, men go off to the war believing it is their patriotic duty to defend their country and its global interests. War, of course, changes them. And Hugo Weaving, as the ghost of a man who is Doss’ father, serves as a living, breathing reminder that war leaves no one untouched physically, emotionally or psychologically. Gibson seems comfortable with the contradictions that inform Hacksaw Ridge. There are wars that need to be fought and there are wars that do not need to be fought. World War II needed to be fought, and Desmond Doss became a hero by fighting the only way he knew.
Aired: Nov. 3, 2016
Web site: http://www.hacksawridge.movie