Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s long-awaited comeback behind the camera is a bit of a mess. The most ironic thing about it is perhaps the fact it’s one of the most graphically violent war films to grace the screens in recent times, and it’s about a pacifistic who refused to ever even pick up a gun. But for all it’s flaws, there is alot to admire about the film, beginning with the fact that it offers one of the most hellish and visceral depictions of war ever put on screen, even if it contradicts the film’s strict moral code.
The films follows the real-life story of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a seventh-day Adventist turned U.S. Army corporal. And it’s divided essentially into these two halves; the first, which follows Doss during the early parts of his life in his hometown of Virginia hill and his time at boot-camp, where his pacifist beliefs are put to the test by both his fellow soldiers a drill sergeant played by Vince Vaughn, who feels essentially like a more toned-down version of R. Lee Ermey’ Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. While the second half, follows him at Hacksaw Ridge during the bloody Battle of Okinawa.
From very early on, the film establishes faith as the central theme and a driving force that influences Doss greatly. However it goes a little overboard with making the point early on. And the first half of the film, which focuses on his past, his background, his personal relationships, essentially everything before he gets to Hacksaw Ridge, is done in such a ridiculously cheesy way that the entire thing starts to feel like a bad Old-Hollywood melodrama. It has everything from sanctimonious preaching to cornball sentimentality to romantic cliches that’s quite frankly, made it painful to watch.
Thankfully, the film shifts to the war at Hacksaw in the second half and we finally get to see the battle sequences. Now, if you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s previous films you’ll know he isn’t exactly someone who’s known for being subtle. And true to form, he directs this dialed all the way up to an eleven. Which, for the most part, works.
The sequences are truly visceral and atmospheric in every sense of the word. And Gibson does not spare you with the gory details (literally). Whether it be, the slow-motion shot of a soldier kicking an enemy’s lobbed grenade away or just the frenzy or moving bullets. And I think for the most part the film succeeds as a horrifying and powerful depiction of war. Thanks in part to, Andrew Garfield’s impressively stoic portrayal of Doss which makes makes him easy to empathize with, even if the character feels somewhat one-dimensional. However, towards the end, the sequences begin to border on self-parody and begin to feel more reminiscent to something like Tropic Thunder and that’s when the film just lost the little grip it had on me.
At the end of the day though, Hacksaw Ridge‘s virtues just barely outweigh it’s problems for me. I think the battle sequences have a very immersive quality to them and the entire thing is impressively directed and quite powerful, at times, which mostly help to keep it’s cheesy sensibilities and hypocritical contradictions at bay.