Hacksaw Ridge is a movie that will inspire you. It’ll kick you in a rear until you commit to having a direct hand in the betterment of your community. You’ll sit through the credits, waiting for your eyes to dry, thinking, “What have I ever done and what could I ever do to be even half as selfless as Desmond Doss?”
SIDE NOTE: I’m having a really hard time sitting down and writing this review. If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this review, it’s that you will feel inspired by this movie. Every second I sit here in my apartment is one less second I’m outside in the world. Even if I can’t rescue the lives of soldiers, I can, at minimum, be outside enjoying the world for which soldiers fought. But I made commitment to myself to write more often. I’ve been slacking for a few months. I’m not going to slack any more, so I will type on.
Right off the bat, it needs to be said that Andrew Garfield is spectacular in this movie. He is engaging, honest, believable and as charming as an angel. Garfield’s performance as Desmond Doss carries the movie. It is by far the best aspect of Hacksaw Ridge from a production standpoint and he will be nominated for awards.
The rest of the cast though? Eh, it’s hit or miss. There are some good performances. Hugo Weaving turns in a good performance as Desmond’s alcoholic dad and Teresa Palmer does a good job playing Desmond’s love interest. But there are some sore thumbs, none more sore than Vince Vaughn.
I like Vince Vaughn. He’s a funny guy and has turned in some good dramatic performances. But as a drill sergeant, he just feels out of his league in Hacksaw Ridge.
But I know why you’re here. You’re here for the war scenes and the action. Well, moviegoers expecting to be immediately shoved into a harsh, gritty combat situation will need some patience. And they might need some extra salty popcorn to counter balance the sweetness pouring off the screen.
I feel weird saying this but Hacksaw Ridge is almost too positive. Especially the first half. Desmond Doss is almost too perfect. His love life is almost too endearing. And the struggles he faces before heading to war never feel challenging enough.
We never see Desmond falter, or even come close for that matter. I personally feel (and completely understand if others don’t) that Hacksaw Ridge would have been better off by diving deeper into Desmond’s struggles leading up until war. It all feels too surface level.
We get to explore one of his darker moments later in the movie, but by then Desmond is already Superman. It’s too little too late. Desmond starts the movie at level 10 perfection and stays there until the end. We as viewers aren’t given a chance to really see Desmond grow into the hero he becomes.
This doesn’t necessarily make the movie bad. But in my opinion it made the movie not as good as it could have been. The first half of the movie feels like a made for TV movie. At no point do I have any doubt that Desmond is going to be great. And then at the end, when he’s great, I’m like, “Yeah. Duh. Of course he does that. He’s perfect!”
I do think I understand why the filmmakers decided to make the first half of Hacksaw Ridge more akin to a Lifetime movie. The contrast between the super sweet USA scenes and the Okinawa scenes are completely jarring. On one hand you have a bright, happy love story and then you are instantly transported to a world where people’s faces are exploding.
Art is the execution of transitions. And by God, Hacksaw Ridge has got one hell of a sharp transition.
In a surprise to no one, Hacksaw Ridge has a fair amount of gore. I mean, have you seen any of Mel Gibson’s other movies?
For the most part, Gibson presents a fairly well-balanced approach to the violence of war. Yes, you will witness horrific deaths. You will see mangled bodies, exploding heads and plenty of blood. This is not a movie for weak stomachs. But the vast majority of the violence is done with some reverence and tact.
Hacksaw Ridge is not Hostel. There is no torture porn… but one moment does comes close and it feels out of place.
Spoiler alert! Japan loses the battle. In doing so, the Japanese commanding officer (who we haven’t seen before this moment) commits seppuku. It’s a useful scene in terms of metaphor, but to the extent we are shown this general’s death was too much. It felt gratuitous. It felt out of place. And sadly, the unnecessary gore removed me from the movie during a pretty pivotal moment.
My absolutely favorite part of Hacksaw Ridge comes at the end. It’s the very last thing you see before the credits roll and it made my eyes swell. I won’t spoil it for you, but just know that it takes everything you’ve just seen and makes it real. You’ll be struck by the level of sacrifice one man made.
I’m glad the movie left me feeling that way. To me, the last scenes carried the emotional weight of the movie and drove the point home. But I do wish I had felt that level of emotion throughout the movie.
Hacksaw Ridge is a competently made movie. It tells an incredible story adequately well. I would have loved to see an even better version of this film, but maybe in five years some studio will “reboot the franchise”. The story of Desmond Doss lays the foundation for one of the best war movies ever made. Hacksaw Ridge delivers with the execution of an okay movie.
The end result lands somewhere in the middle, and that’s still pretty darn good.