It is officially Oscar season – that time of year when Hollywood starts dishing out what they believe are going to be their prestigious films to take home that little golden statue. One common compliant heard during this season is that we always get the same kinds of film. However, I always look forward to these films as some of my favorite directors and actors put forth their absolute best effort.
Now let’s get the elephant in the room out-of-the-way; this is a film directed by Mel Gibson. For the last decade or so, he has not been in a lot of people’s good graces for many reasons. As you can’t really ignore that aspect of his personal life, you have to admire his professional life. From Mad Max, to Lethal Weapon and when he stepped behind the camera with Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson has always given us quality and 100% of his effort.
Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a WWII combat medic, who while being a conscientious objector, participated in the invasion of Okinawa to win the war in the Pacific. WWII has been a topic of many films over the years but very few have the guts to tell their story like this.
This movie is essentially two stories. The first is a period drama about a man so committed to his faith and convictions that he’s willing to go to the furthest extremes to keep them. The other story is a war film about his courage and valor on the battlefield. Gibson was able to tell both stories with such earnestness that you are taken in from the very beginning. He does this while also managing to capture the tone of the time period.
Mel Gibson was able to create a story, that by simple conversations, you feel the weight of words just as much as a nearby mortar blast. Andrew Garfield turns in the greatest performance of his career. His perfect portrayal is sure to earn him a Best Actor nomination. His performance was constantly visually pleasing – from the way he portrayed the emotional battle raging underneath the surface to him charging across the war zone. I was invested from the start with his character, as he develops from a young boy with a difficult upbringing, to a courageous young man willing to die for his country without ever picking up a weapon.
The supporting cast is terrific as well, with Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Theresa Palmer, and Hugo Weaving all giving amazing performances (Weaving especially). Everyone is on their A game in this, and it just pours off of the screen in such beauty. You feel each character’s pain and struggle as Garfield fights to have the right to serve his nation. Honestly, I was moved. I felt this pride I never really felt before watching a movie.
Now what’s a war film without fighting? A boring one, that’s what. With the invasion of Okinawa and the United States trying to gain footing in the Pacific, I was shown the most realistic war scenes since Saving Private Ryan. You feel every bullet, every explosion, every drop of blood and every scream. The battle sequences are drenched in confusion and fear and you are put in the middle of it. Several times I caught myself jumping or gasping as if I was fighting right alongside these characters.
I wish, I really wish I could say this was an absolutely perfect film. However, there are a couple of issues I had. Andrew Garfield can’t fight a war on his own (he can’t even hold a rifle) so he has an entire squad, and unfortunately you never really get to know them. Sure, there are a few that stand outs, but after it ended, I couldn’t really name a single one of them. It’s unfortunate as when a few meet an untimely fate, you don’t really care. You probably can’t even picture who they are.
The very end too changed stylistically, which I didn’t understand. Movies are art, but it transitioned into an artsy style, which contradicted the gritty realism of everything else we just saw. It just felt a bit odd after the intense two hours the viewer just experienced. This also might be a personal nitpick, but digital blood squibs? Seriously? Practical effects everywhere but you use digital blood squibs? My biggest pet peeve, I hate them.
Those are just tiny issues, in a nearly flawless film. Mel Gibson is back and better than ever! Time may prove me wrong, and perhaps I’ll change my mind, but I think this movie might actually be better than Braveheart. I know, blasphemy, but just do me a favor, and go see it for yourself. Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful, emotional, gripping and a true moviegoer experience.