Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Rent Hacksaw Ridge on Amazon Video
Written by: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight (screenplay)
Directed by: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn
Rated: R

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!

WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot. He refused to touch a weapon, serving during the Battle of Okinawa.

A great war movie that borders on too visceral for the violence, but the courage and constitution of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is nothing short of impressive. With a fair amount of setup, the payoff at Hacksaw Ridge is a riveting experience. It's a grand scale and it looks good with some neat cinematography. Filled with more than a few great scenes, a solid performance from Garfield doesn't hurt.
Watch it.

While this is a great movie, it succumbs to the trope of showing something exciting that happens towards the end of the movie in the first scene before flashing back to Doss's roots of pacifism. I wish film makers would quit using this trope. If your first scenes aren't exciting enough, change them. Don't use a cheap trick.

 The first scene showcases the horrors of war, and then we see how a fight with his brother convicts Doss to never touch a weapon again. In the fight with his brother, their father didn't care they were fighting until someone got hurt. It's a hint the father is a real piece of work. The timeline jumps again and Doss meets a nurse at a hospital. He's has an interest and a skill at medicine and aid. He ends up giving blood just so he can spend time the the nurse. I've seen many needles going into arms in movies, but I've never heard the pop of the needle breaking the skin. It may be realistic, but it's more than I needed.

Vince Vaughn plays Sergeant Howell, Doss's basic training and later combat sergeant. I still can't quite get over Vaughn playing serious roles, but he did a fine job in Season 2 of HBO's True Detective. He does a more than serviceable job in this.

Of course Doss gets plenty of flack for refusing to touch a weapon. The brass wants to get him out by any means necessary, and I can't blame their disposition, though their methods turn the platoon against Doss. It's a great scene when Doss stands bruised and beaten, refusing to drop out or even implicate who attacked him. It's certainly a test of conviction. Of course he seems crazy. He wants to fight in a war without a weapon. The military doesn't want to send him to his death. Doss completes basic training with help from his dad and a general as the military is relentless in trying to remove him.

The level of gore at the Battle of Okinawa is unsettling. Bits of bone, flesh, and blood fly through the air. Saving Private Ryan (read my review) showed the reality of war without trying to make you squeamish. This is a level we don't necessarily need, and I don't know if it's born from a desire to be realistic to a high degree or to add a bullet point.

Doss runs into the thick of battler with no weapon, just grit and determination. He lived from luck more than anything else. Armed or unarmed, for some soldiers it wouldn't have mattered. He takes his helmet off frequently. Did Garfield just not like wearing it? Why not just leave it off, the helmets never seemed to stop much.
In a movie filled with great moments, none are bigger and better than when we see lone bodies lowered down the ridge by Doss. The soldiers on the ground have no idea what's happening or that only a single unarmed man is saving these lives and lowering men down the ridge. As Doss is dragging men back he prays, "Lord, help me get one more." He continues retrieving bodies until he's forced to retreat. Doss coming down the ridge is an exhilarating moment, a culmination of everything this movie has been doing for the preceding two hours. It's a fantastic scene and good film making.

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