By Cristian Mendoza (Phoenix, Arizona)
Hacksaw Ridge is directed by Mel Gibson, and stars Andrew Garfield. Costarring in the film is Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, and Rachel Griffiths.
Mel Gibson has finally made a very welcome directorial comeback. After a decade since 2006’s Apocalypto, Gibson finally comes back hard with this gruesome, but enduring war epic. This film finds him coming back to his true form, and finds him revisiting the stomping grounds that made Braveheart such a jarring, beautiful masterpiece. Not since Letters from Iwo Jima has a World War II film been so emotionally resonant, beautifully filmed, and heart wrenchingly potent as this one. Gibson continues his reputation as a holds-no-barrier, take-all-risk filmmaker. In the respect of Braveheart, The Patriot, and Passion of the Christ, he continues to tell incredible, heroic stories, combining brutal violence and visual enchantment to put the audience both in a state of distress and inspiration. To move the audience in a way that most filmmakers cannot. He carries a style of filmmaking that is all his own, and just might be able to return to his glory days of Hollywood with this harrowing, but vigorous war film.
Andrew Garfield stars as Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his work in the Battle of Okinawa. Desmond Doss comes from a rough, but very religious background, being raised a Seventh-Day Adventist. His father Tom, a World War I veteran, struggles with alcoholism. At a young age, after hitting his brother Hal in the face with a brick, nearly killing him, Desmond denounces violence, stating that it would be strongly against his Christian beliefs to take another human being’s life. As he grows older, he shows a strong interest in becoming a military medic, wanting to save people’s lives, rather than take them. He vows to never fire a weapon if he is sent into battle. When he is enlisted, he is harassed and taunted by his fellow soldiers, seeing his refusal to touch a weapon as cowardice. Members of his own unit beat him, and he is eventually arrested for insubordination. Despite this, he is determined to make his desire of joining the military come true. When his prayers are finally answered, and he his sent into battle, he manages to save the lives of 75 soldiers, all without firing a single weapon. What follows is a series of some of the most grisly battles ever filmed, with Doss managing to make a name for himself, while doing God’s work of helping others in times of extreme conflict.
Andrew Garfield has made quite a name for himself in the past few years. Earning his first Golden Globe nomination as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, to rising to fame as Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man films, he is becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought out actors today. He gave such an incredible performance this year as a Jesuit priest (ironically enough, another religious character who is put in extreme endurance) in the Martin Scorsese film Silence. This film further proves that he can endure very harsh environments when filming, and can be pushed past his limits, while still refusing to break. His Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for this film are very well earn, as he has established himself as a true rising star in the film industry. Another performance that I found to be more than satisfying is Hugo Weaving, playing his father Tom. Weaving has established himself as a true character actor, playing many iconic roles in Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and V for Vendetta. His powerful performance as a broken man, who has experience things that no person has ever, and should ever experience. He is an actor of true versatile form, and it is great to still see him still putting in every part of himself for every performance that he gives.
(WARNING: Graphic description in this next paragraph.)
Gibson’s visual style and direction also offer a bleak and realistic war setting. The graphic violence and the strong direction help to reestablish his talent as a director. Every set piece feels like you are put straight in the action of the brutality. In the same spirit as Braveheart, Gibson establishes yet another violent epic, which takes a hold of us at the start of the character’s journey, and refuses to let us go. The violence in this film is extreme. Plethoras of blood and gore fill the screen once the soldiers enter the ridge. Grenades take off limbs, bullets pierce through flesh with spurting blood, characters are set on fire by bombs and flamethrowers, and literally every grisly war image imaginable is present in this film. If you are squeamish, or are sensitive in any way to violence, avoid this film. This film has some of the strongest war violence in a film since Saving Private Ryan.
There are quite a few complaints that I have with the film. There are various, clichéd tropes that we’ve seen in quite a few war films in the past (a cheesy love story, sub-par special effects, etc.). These tropes did take me out of a lot of the first half of the film. However, when the second act of the film begins, with the soldiers finally charging into battle, the film picks itself back up off its feet, and comes back just as hard as ever.
I hope that Gibson makes more great films like this one, and I hope he is able to pull a Robert Downey Jr., and make another promising comeback, to remind us of the true artist that he really is. This definitely isn’t a perfect film, but believe me when I say that it’s definitely worth watching. If you can handle the violent battle scenes, then check this film out, and witness Gibson in probably his strongest form yet.
My final rating: B
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