World War Two is a popular film setting. It is also a popular choice for films looking for the coveted golden statues. Maybe it’s because WWII was the last conflict with an easy villain, easy heroes, a suitable distance between the period and present day or maybe it’s because the Academy is made up of old white men. Who knows, anyway it’s award season again and like clockwork there is a World War Two drama Hacksaw Ridge, this time it’s directed by Mel Gibson, starring Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn?
Inspired by true events the film follows the historical account of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) a combat medic, who holds a very important place in history. One he saved 75 wounded soldiers by himself, two, he is the only conscientious objector to hold the congressional medal of honour, and three he was on the front lines of the American-Japanese war without a weapon. The film’s narrative, follows his childhood, his romance with Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) his army training, the titular battle and his relationship to his Father (Hugo Weaving) a survivor of World War One, broken by guilt and the war.
First. let’s address the performances, Andrew Garfield’s Desmond Doss, carries the film as the emotional and moral centre. He is sincere, charming and entirely believable, and though the material does stray into sentimentality, he makes the slightly more saccharine, more palatable due to his easy charisma. His chemistry with Teresa Palmer is also a joy to watch and one of the best moments of the film was during the proposal/enlisting scene, due to both actors perfect performances. Hugo Weaving is possibly the strongest performer in the entire film, as Desmond’s father, traumatised by the war and his survival of it he is the most nuanced and bombastic parts of the whole movie. Doss’ fellow soldiers provide solid support for Garfield, and some are even memorable including Luke Bracey as Smitty Riker. Finally one has to address Vince Vaughn, let’s be frank, he hasn’t had the best track record, but here he goes someway to make up for every shocking film he has been in. While his drill Sargent Howell isn’t as mean or memorable as R Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket, he adds a sense of humour to proceedings, and he clearly cares about his men.
Hacksaw Ridge feels a little bit out of time. I am in no way denigrating the amazing feats of heroism that Doss performed during the battle for Hacksaw Ridge at times it got incredibly sentimental. There is an over-emphasis on Doss as a pure-hearted and misunderstood individual. I would have liked to have seen him struggle with his decision especially on the battlefield. I would have also liked to have seen more of his anger issue that the film addressed, but I was never fully explored.
The story is expertly passed, nothing feels underdeveloped, and everything is tied together in a fantastic package. Similarly, the film is also well crafted; the action sequences are well thought out and shot, with a great awareness of space and the geography of the battlefield. The Ridge is an entirely hellish landscape with strange outcrops of rock, a thick layer of mist and bodies strewn hither and thither. I would say that it borrows heavily from Saving Private Ryan, but then again what film doesn’t. Though the score is good, it does tend to creep into the film a bit much, and it would have been nice to have some sections of silence, to increase the tension or heighten the emotional impact of certain scenes. There were also some gaffs with the flame retardant suits worn by stuntmen and the slightly fake looking cadavers, namely, we could see them. But this is just a couple of nit-picks for a film that does a fine job communicating the absolute carnage of war in a way that still feels perhaps a little new.
Despite some very questionable racial politics Hacksaw Ridge is a highly entertaining film. While it does get very sentimental and over preachy with its message there is clearly a heart to the movie, a heart that is powered mainly by Andrew Garfield.