Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, and Teresa Palmer
Directed by Mel Gibson
Andrew Garfield portrays Doss who grew up in Lynchburg, Virigina, during the Great Depression. A near tragic childhood incident in which Desmond could've killed his brother instills a deeply religious belief system into his young mind, with Desmond carrying the missives of the Ten Commandments with him throughout this life. When WWII begins, Desmond feels that he must enlist to serve his country despite the urgings of his parents (Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths) and his girlfriend Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) to remain in Virginia and do his part on his home soil. Filled with patriotic pride, Desmond heads off to basic training to be a combat medic where he immediately finds resentment amongst his fellow soldiers for his refusal to carry a weapon, taking on the role of a passive conscientious objector as he abides by the commandment that he "shalt not kill." Many attempts are made to relieve him of his duties, but Desmond perseveres and is allowed to head over to Japan with his regiment (after a quick wedding to Dorothy, that is). It's there where the American troops engage in an epic battle to take over Hacksaw Ridge from the Japanese -- a brutal melee during which Desmond proves his worth and his unimaginable bravery without ever picking up a weapon.
Desmond Doss's story on the battlefield is an amazing one -- one that deserved to be brought to the screen. His tale is treated with reverence by Gibson (and the screenwriters) and it's certainly an odd thing to see religion and faith be treated with respect in a mainstream big budget movie. For that, I commend Gibson, but I also feel that there were moments when visually the director decides to paint a too blatantly Jesus-esque depiction of Doss. Slow motion edits and obvious cinematographic overtones hammer home the comparison a bit too bluntly (and actually caused me to laugh at one point in time -- something that was certainly not the intention). In a similar fashion, during the film's first half, much of cast is forced to portray one-note characters, particularly that of Desmond's father Tom played by Hugo Weaving. Weaving is the quintessential country bumpkin -- an alcoholic, abusive, slow-talker who is eventually won over by his son's backbone -- and he's playing a joke of a role that feels as if it could've been culled from a Duck Dynasty episode or a human version of The Country Bear Jamboree. Quite frankly, it's a bit embarrassing, as is the typical array of characters Desmond meets in his army regiment from the tough-as-nails Smitty (Luke Bracey) who refuses to accept Desmond until a pivotal moment changes his worldview to a comedic Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) who puts Desmond through a tough struggle to stay in the army. Granted, Desmond's army buddies fare better than his father, but the script does these side characters no favors.
Andrew Garfield and Teresa Palmer come across much better and their love story is peppered with several meet-cutes and blinky-eyed 1940s flirting, but it works in the environment set up by Gibson. Admittedly, this romance stands in huge contrast to the incredibly violent though brutally realistic war scenes in the film's second half, but Gibson manages to stage both disparate segments with confidence, allowing Desmond's religious faith to remain a strong focus amidst the chaotic freneticism of the violent Hacksaw Ridge battle.
In the end, Hacksaw Ridge is a successful film and portrays a story that will instill a great deal of pride in Americans who give the film a watch (even those inherently anti-war and anti-violence). Gibson really does do an excellent job in showcasing and merging the brutality of war with the gentle strength of faith and character in Desmond Doss. I just wish the screenplay could've allowed for a more well-rounded portrayal of the cast outside of the film's central romantic relationship. It's good to see Mel Gibson back behind the lens again and even if he adds in a few too many flourishes, he proves he's an adept auteur.
The RyMickey Rating: B