I constantly argue silently in my head over trivial topics, like what type of cheese to buy at the store, what color socks to wear, or what 2016 movie trailer was the best. The debate ends with Mel Gibson‘s Hacksaw Ridge. If you missed the preview of the film, you can catch it below and feel the raw emotion bleeding off whatever screen on which you view it. Never has a trailer grabbed not just my attention, but all the strings attached to my heart. I challenge you to not feel similar conditions when witnessing the epic trailer.
Immediately I connected to Andrew Garfield‘s portrayal as real life World War II hero Desmond Doss on an ideological level. He was a rare breed: a conscientious objector who refused to take up arms in a time where a country unified in its desire for revenge, no matter how violent. The question was whether or not the movie’s director, Mel Gibson, could do Doss’s incredible true story justice. I answer with an entree of “yes,” and a side of “no.”
If you’ve yet to fact-check Hacksaw Ridge to confirm, I assure you Desmond Doss is a real person who achieved many unbelievable feats in a gruesome battle. The film opts to take the traditional biographical picture format and show us Doss first as a child. We see the familial struggles that Desmond and his brother Hal have with their perpetually drunk World War I veteran father, Tom, played beautifully by Hugo Weaving.
We also see the foundation of Desmond’s pacifist beliefs. To no one’s surprise, director Mel Gibson really drives home the religious influence, but it never felt too preachy since that defines so much of Desmond’s identity. There’s a sliver of the audience complaining how the role religion plays lacks subtlety in the movie, but there’d be no Desmond Doss war hero story without it.
As I expected, once the timeline shifts to the years of World War II, Andrew Garfield commands the screen as Desmond. In last year’s 99 Homes, Garfield shined as a man compromising his morality to make ends meet. Here, he’s doing the opposite of compromising as Desmond and it’s equally riveting. Desmond’s unwavering belief system are thoroughly on display throughout the picture, which provides weight to all of the dangerous, good deeds you see him perform.
Another common criticism levied against Hacksaw Ridge is the amount and detail in violence. Some view it as unnecessary, but I understood it as a motivator for Desmond to continue his decided path. In the face of the bloodiest of battles where individuals resort to their most animalistic, Desmond held true in his refusal to take up arms, successfully opting to aid many critically wounded soldiers on both sides no matter the risk to himself. In a way, the brutality acts as an anti-war message as much as Desmond’s contentious objecting.
The message in Hacksaw Ridge is cut and dry, but it would be lost on the masses without performances to carry the film. Garfield certainly does his part, but I think people will come out of theaters buzzing about Vince Vaughn and Hugo Weaving. Vince plays the stereotypical hard-ass drill sergeant, but because it’s Vince Vaughn, you overlook the cliche and recognize this as a role he always should have played. Hugo’s heartbreaking portrayal as Desmond’s miserable, alcoholic father will likely be up for Academy Award contention in the Best Supporting Actor category.
My issues with the movie reside in its standard war film approach. Every story beat feels very formulaic and on rare occasion, unoriginal. Because of Desmond’s unique story, you’re compelled by Ridge, but once you let the movie simmer for a week or so like I have, you start to see the cracks in the hypothetical armor. While my appreciation for the characters and real life plot remains strong, I can’t ignore the tropes in regards to movie flow and cliched adversaries like Smitty Riker (Luke Bracey).
Smitty is one of Doss’s fellow soldiers who takes offense to Desmond’s anti-violence beliefs, and picks on him for half the film for it. I’ll let you guess if these two end up bonding by the end of the movie for one reason or another. If you’ve seen one war film, you know how it plays out. Regardless of the incredible acting, you will likely catch these very familiar things.
After years in imaginary Hollywood prison for deplorable hate speech, director Mel Gibson shifts focus to a real superhero of our time and appears to earn critics’ respect for it. I definitely greatly appreciated the story, acting, close-quarters battle scenes, and the epic musical score, but the familiarity in Hacksaw Ridge‘s architecture are bothersome (at least to me). Regardless, I do wish more inspirational, incredible biographical pictures like this were made. To be cliched myself, we could use a little more light in the darkness life sometimes delivers, and Ridge certainly provides that.