If you’ll allow me, I’d like to get somewhat serious for a moment before I start my review of Hacksaw Ridge.
The movie is directed by Mel Gibson, who, if you don’t know, was a huge movie star and director for the last couple of decades before he was heard/quoted as saying incredibly offensive things on separate occasions. He was rightly chastised by the public and media while his career took a massive hit and was basically non-existent the past few years.
I want to make this review as objective as possible, so while the answer to whether Gibson is a good person or not probably leans more toward the latter, let’s put that aside for a moment, give Hacksaw Ridge a blank slate and see where it leans on the good or bad scale itself.
Directed by Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge tells the real-life story of Desmond Doss, a pacifist medic in World War II. Doss was criticized and ridiculed for not believing in violence or wanting to even touch a gun, but he proved himself at the Battle of Okinawa by saving 75 of his fellow soldiers, retrieving them one-by-one from the battlefield after the U.S. retreated.
Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, and Vince Vaughn round out the ensemble cast.
The movie is exactly what you’d expect. Our main hero stands by his beliefs, only to be persecuted against and then ultimately accepted by his fellow soldiers. The story doesn’t really deviate much from that basic plot line, and some parts can even be cringe-worthingly cheesy, especially in the beginning.
The film improves as it goes, hitting its highlights once Desmond gets to boot camp. Watching him work to save wounded soldiers on the battlefield really leaves you in disbelief at how far Doss went for his men and elicits a lot of respect for someone who did something truly heroic.
The film’s main problem is the lack of subtext, which also contributes to some of the cheesiness.
Gibson makes any character who gets in Doss’s way, whether it be a Japanese soldier or one of Doss’s superiors in the Army, a caricature of a villain—you almost expect them all to have mustaches so they can twirl them as they laugh maniacally.
The battle scenes are filmed to the extreme—lots of exploding bodies and screaming to the point where you start to lose any sympathy for any of the characters and end up just watching men shoot at each other. Sure, it can be entertaining, but it gets old after a while.
Acting-wise, Weaving is the standout of the group, and Garfield hits his stride once you get used to his southern accent and once he starts screaming on the battlefield. Few actors are better at letting their emotions run wild than Garfield.
Overall, Hacksaw Ridge is a boilerplate bio-picture that has its moments of pure emotion and action, but then combines it with generic scenes full of clichés to make it an uneven experience.