Hacksaw Ridge is the newest film from Mel Gibson, the director of Braveheart and Apocalypto, both of which are movies that I am a huge fan of. Gibson has been somewhat of a leper in Hollywood in recent years because of his personal issues and knack for getting recorded saying unfavorable things. That being said, I have always been a fan of his acting and directing. He was very good in Blood Father last year, and I was pretty excited to see this film as well.
Let’s go ahead and hit the biggest point first, Andrew Garfield is fantastic in this movie. He one hundred percent deserves his Oscar nomination for this role. Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a combat medic in World War 2 who refused to carry a weapon onto the battlefield, instead focusing solely on saving the lives of wounded soldiers. He is able to convey such emotion, while also expertly toeing the line of not overacting the role. You completely believe that he has the convictions that his character has in the movie. There is a specific scene about three quarters of the way through the movie where he is entrenched with a soldier in his company that is probably my favorite scene in the movie as far as Garfield’s performance.
Although this is most certainly Garfield’s movie, there are some extremely solid supporting performances to be had. Hugo Weaving plays the father of Garfield’s character, and is great in the few scenes that he gets some screen time in. His reaction to hearing that his other son is heading to war is gut-wrenching while also being subdued. Teresa Palmer plays Dorothy, Garfield’s love interest in the movie. She does a good job with the material that she is given. She always has that girl next door quality to her in pretty much everything she is in, and it works for her here as well. The role I had the most mixed reception of was actually Vince Vaughn’s Sergeant character. I thought he was perfectly fine in the quieter, more subdued moments, but I just didn’t really buy him in the scenes where he was screaming and barking orders at everyone. For some reason, it just made me want to laugh, which I don’t believe was the intended reaction.
The first half of this movie does a great job of exploring Desmond’s character, helping the viewer to understand why he has the convictions that he has, while also being careful to not admonish the other men who don’t feel the same way he does. It would have been easy to try and make the other soldiers out to be bloodthirsty monsters who just want to kill for the sake of it, but it is a testament to the quality of the script that they don’t do that. All of them are there to protect their country and serve, and the movie is careful and smart to see the point of view from both sides.
The second half of the movie is where shit just hits the fan. The brutal realism of the war scenes is genuinely unsettling at times, and they don’t shy away from graphic scenes of violence. The violence is presented in a way that seems necessary to the plot, and not to just be gratuitous for the sake of it. War is misery and death, and Gibson does a great job of bringing that across in his direction of the film. The fact that this is based on true events just makes the whole thing even more amazing, showing the viewer some of the incredibly heroic things that the real-life Desmond Doss was able to do. The cinematography in this movie was also great, thanks to Simon Duggan, who was able to make the war scenes look brutally beautiful to watch.
Overall, I am glad to see another movie from Gibson, as I believe he is a great director. Andrew Garfield turns in one of his two great performances of 2016 in this film, and the supporting cast does a good job of doing just that, supporting Andrew Garfield as he carries this movie on his shoulders. While I wouldn’t quite put this movie up there with Saving Private Ryan or Apocalypse Now, it is definitely one of the better war films of the past couple decades. Hopefully this is a sign of the quality we can keep expecting from Gibson and Garfield going forward.