One of the most controversial characters in Hollywood returns to direct Hacksaw Ridge, a World War 2 movie that tells an incredible true story about Desmond Doss, a combat medic who refused to bear arms despite heading into battle.
The first half hour or so of the film plays out like a 1940’s love story between main character Desmond Andrew Garfield and Teresa Palmer. The chemistry between them was good enough to make me buy into the romance and despite things moving very quickly in the film from first meeting to madly in love. This love story is interwoven with showing us Desmond’s father, played brilliantly by Hugo Weaving, who is a first world war veteran who lost a lot of friends, and is struggling with alcoholism.
This entire quarter of the film is serves its purpose very well, establishing Desmond’s reasons behind his refusal to pick up a rifle despite his desire to go serve for his country. It does feel a little rushed through, but this is the only real problem I had with the movie. The only way to make this work would’ve been to make a longer movie, and as it already clocks in around 2 hours and 20 minutes, that may have been too long for some viewers to stomach.
From there, the movie quickly switches gears to the boot camp where Desmond’s interactions with his squad mates push his morals to the limit. This is where the movie started to really hit for me as Garfield’s performance is magnificent. Whilst he and Hugo Weaving are the top performers for me, both Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington give what is a career best for them both in my opinion. Vince Vaughn in particular showing he still has the serious acting ability when he needs it, as well as providing some great one liners reminiscent of the opening scene in Full Metal Jacket (If you haven’t seen that, give the first scene a watch on YouTube, always hilarious).
The third act of the film is where Hacksaw Ridge elevates itself above almost any war film I have ever seen with some of the best shot action I have ever seen. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t choreographed fighting like in a John Wick or Superhero film. The action in this film feels like Mel Gibson went back in time and put a camera on the front lines. The chaos on-screen acts as a juxtaposition to the main characters desire to just do some good and help people in this horrific circumstance.
The film wraps up quite quickly, with it almost being a bit surprising that the end of the film is here. I would’ve liked the film to have shown me some more of the events that are dictated to us in text at the end of the film, but much like the rushed nature of the first act, the only way to do this would be with a longer film.
Due to the controversy around Mel Gibson as a person, it might be hard to separate the art from the artist for some people. That being said, he deserves enormous credit for the direction of this film, particularly the 2nd and 3rd acts where Hacksaw Ridge really hits its stride. I was surprised to see him nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, but I am glad he has been because he is as much the star of this film as Andrew Garfield.
Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best war films ever, and it is definitely deserving of the Best Picture nomination it has received. All that stops Hacksaw Ridge from being a perfect movie to me is that I wanted more. With excellent, believable performances from every actor/actress, a remarkably compelling story and the action being executed very well, the slightly rushed first act and ending are all I could say weren’t great. If you like war movies, heck if you just like movies, Hacksaw Ridge is a must see.
9/10 – Near perfect war movie.