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REVIEW: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

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With Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto under his directorial belt, Mel Gibson’s track record as a filmmaker is second to none, and thankfully his staggering winning streak is confidently maintained with 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge. Even though a decade has elapsed since Gibson’s Apocalypto, he makes his return behind the camera without missing a beat, showing yet again why he seriously needs the opportunity to direct more movies. A stunningly vivid World War II picture, Hacksaw Ridge dramatises the heroic story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who determinedly set out to serve his country without ever picking up a weapon. Almost impossibly, Gibson transforms what could have been a preachy religious fable into a frequently gripping and emotive war film.

As a young boy, Desmond learned a valuable lesson about the true impact of violence when he nearly killed his brother, and, as a consequence, grows up to be a deeply religious, God-fearing man. Managing to court endearing nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), Desmond chooses to enlist in the United States Army with his brother Harold (Nathaniel Buzolic), much to the dismay of their alcoholic father Tom (Hugo Weaving), who lost all of his friends in battle during WWI. Sent to basic training, Desmond proves to be an excellent recruit, but refuses to participate in rifle training as he sticks to his religious and moral beliefs, aspiring to serve only as a combat medic. This frustrates his platoon staff, with Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) hoping to break Desmond, while fellow recruits perceive him as a liability who might get them all killed. But Desmond’s resolve cannot be broken, and after his training he’s sent to battle in the Pacific theatre with the rest of his company. Desmond is really put to the test during the vicious battle of Hacksaw Ridge, where he remains determined to save as many men as he possibly can.

The screenplay, which was originally penned by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace, has ample backstory to work through, and it’s critical to note that this is more of a biography of Desmond as opposed to a more simplistic war movie. Despite a hefty 130-minute runtime, not a single frame feels superfluous here – if anything, the movie could’ve been longer. Every scene serves a purpose, developing Desmond’s character, his romance with Dorothy and his home life, on top of depicting his experiences in the military. And miraculously, thanks to smart pacing and focused filmmaking, none of the build-up feels like homework. Additionally, whereas most dramas these days are grim and dour, Hacksaw Ridge is imbued with glorious gallows humour which feels entirely organic to the story and characters. Real-life soldiers do constantly crack jokes due to the nature of their job, after all, and Gibson recognises this. To be sure, not much dimension is given to the Japanese side, but such an angle is simply not necessary – it would have added too much narrative flab, and above all taken away from the story’s central focus. The movie does observe Desmond being kind to the wounded Japanese, which is sufficient in this aspect.

Gibson is no stranger to war movies, but this is the filmmaker’s first time tackling more modern warfare, with guns and canons rather than the swords and sandals of Braveheart. Frankly, it’s a match made in cinematic heaven, leaving us to wonder why the hell it took so long for him to tackle this sort of thing. The combat sequences are a perfect fit for Gibson’s ultraviolent tendencies, and he absolutely goes for broke here. Working with the freedom of an R rating, the notoriously bloody Battle of Okinawa is done justice on-screen, with the viscerally exciting bloodshed even topping the genre’s granddaddy, 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, in terms of sheer realism. Gibson underscores the fragility of human life on the battlefield, showing bodies being obliterated by explosions and bullets, yet it’s executed with enough tact to prevent the movie from feeling like tasteless gore porn. Gibson does play up aspects of the fighting for dramatic effect, and there is some use of slow motion to underscore the gore and brutality, but it all works in the context of this story, and above all makes for thoroughly riveting viewing. Gibson thankfully relies more on practical effects, which creates a tangible aesthetic. It’s apparent that some digital effects were used for blood, but it’s never distracting or phoney. Hacksaw Ridge looks like a big-budget, $100 million blockbuster with its rich period detail and slick technical presentation, yet it was achieved for a scant $40 million.

Even though shooting on celluloid usually generates a richer cinematic texture for period films of this ilk, Simon Duggan’s digital photography here is stunning nevertheless, and impeccably complemented by the exceptional original score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. The battle sequences are captured with gorgeous finesse and steady camerawork, demonstrating that shaky-cam is not always needed in flicks like this, and allowing us to take in what’s happening on-screen without getting a migraine. Contrary to what some of the foolish critics have decried, the graphic bloodshed is wholly necessary here, solidifying the story’s core anti-war message, and above all emphasising Doss’ sheer bravery on the battlefield. Indeed, watering down the violence would only dilute the movie’s impact. Hacksaw Ridge is an unforgettable experience, inspecting Desmond’s faith and love for God through his actions in battle, with nothing in the way of tedious sermonising.

Garfield was an awful Spider-Man, but he’s superb as Desmond Doss, showing that his capable performances in 99 Homes and The Social Network were not just flukes. Espousing a thick but nevertheless convincing Southern accent, Garfield fully encompasses the role and never loses focus. Alongside him, Australian actress Palmer is endearing as Desmond’s love interest, and it really works in the film’s favour that the central romance is both believable and easy to become invested in. Meanwhile, Worthington makes for a believable military captain despite his inconsistent accent, and Vaughn steals his every scene as a dedicated sergeant. Vaughn has never had much luck in dramatic roles (True Detective, Psycho), but his character here is gifted with an arsenal of one-liners, and his towering figure lends him further credibility. Also worth mentioning is Weaving, who turns in a remarkable performance as Thomas Doss, essaying a pained alcoholic with impressive assurance. There’s nary a weak link on the acting front, despite the distinct shortage of American thespians.

Affecting and powerful, Hacksaw Ridge is the movie of the year. It may be early into Oscar season, but there’s no chance it will not be beaten – it’s the greatest motion picture of 2016, and one of the best movies of the decade. The story of Desmond Doss absolutely needed to be told, and it’s satisfying to behold such a phenomenal motion picture after many decades of attempts to get it made. Hacksaw Ridge may be corny at times, but Gibson commits to the material with utmost sincerity. The movie even closes with archival footage and interviews of the real people of this story, which serves as an effective footnote. Hacksaw Ridge is Gibson’s best movie to date, and that’s a big call.

10

  • AlTeo

    Excellent review, Pvt.
    Stoked for a theatrical release here.

    • Cal

      See it as soon as you can.
      A number of people I know were actually in the film. One of my best mates even has a couple lines with Garfield. And the actor playing Doss’s platoon corporal is based in Sydney and knows several of my friends, which is badass.

  • Der

    How will this work loads on here will want to say it’s great because of Gibson but they won’t be able to go on about melineal girly man Andrew garfield being the star because he’s under 30 it’ll be interesting how they do it praise a movie and actor who if it wasn’t Gibson they would go on and on and on …what’s this young punk doing in a war movie why didn’t they cast the ghost of Charles Branson .

    • Cal

      I guess you’re not really familiar with the story, eh?

      • Der

        No I know the story but anytime a new action movie comes out with a young actor people on here go nuts calling them all sorts of shit and rip into them I like Garfield he was good in lions to lambs but it’ll be hard for the angry old school to pick on him cause of Mel who is a living legend.

        • Der

          Also I’ll make a point of watching this in the cinema anything to aid the comeback of king mel

        • Cal

          Fair enough.
          I thought Garfield was a perfect fit for the role, and the casting is very much in line with the real Doss. And if people don’t like that, that’s their loss. I’ll be over here watching the film again.

          • Mucho Macho

            Great review brother..will watch the movie soon.
            How you been?
            It’s been a while

          • Cal

            G’day mate! All good on this side of the pond, still about a million bucks shy of being a millionaire. I shall be popping in now and again when I have manly reviews to post 😉

          • Mucho Macho

            Hey I’m short a million too 😧💰
            Nice to know your well.
            Keep in touch

          • Cal

            Right back at ya pal!
            I’m like the sun – I’m always observing ;D

  • jim

    Mel is coming back…Brexit…..and now what looks like a very solid victory for The Donald…Even if many people are nervous about what looks like a rising tide I think this is a much needed corrective to decades of self destructive masochism in the west… The liberal elites have had their chains well and truly yanked…and about fucking time….!

    • Der

      Fuck it Jim you called it right I’m gonna stick to movies from now on I just don’t get America glad I don’t live there it seems a split place when I was growing up I never even met a prodestant wasn’t aloud you staid in your catholic estate and never left now we’re getting there I work with a lot of prodestants turns out their normal ok people things aren’t perfect here still some remains of the troubles but all in all we’re getting better hope you get there too ,I don’t want to hate America fuck me it’s America I grew up on your movies your action stars as a poor Irish kid you were the holy grail but not so much now ,good luck to you all I mean that hope you fix the hate and anger on both sides as someone who grew up in Belfast in the eighties that does nobody any good .also it’s morning here and our TVs pondets are as in shock as I’m sure a lot of your experts are also I’ll never listen to another poll again first the conservative win over labour then brexit now this is a poll ever right?

      • jim

        Relax..All President’s have to work with people who disagree with them…checks and balances…Trump has opponents in the Republican Party too…He’s a corrective to a leftward drift….but I don’t see the guy as a hater….I don’t get that vibe off him..

        • Frenchie Pred the Imdb Legend

          Arnie sold out and voted for Clinton.

    • AlTeo
    • Mucho Macho

      Hahahahahahahahahaha
      Hellary didnt even talk to her Supporters..She just fucking left.
      Fuck her!
      By the way Florida was a key Battleground State for the election
      and I noticed a lot more Trump signs than Hillary signs days leading up to the election.
      I thought that was a good sign …I just didn’t say anything cause I didn’t want to jinx it.

      • The Night Rider

        This must be what it felt like under Reagan.

        • Mucho Macho
        • Mucho Macho

          We need Cannon movies back💪😀

          • jim

            We need Charlie.

          • Mucho Macho

            Now more than ever.
            He is in the “To resuscitate list”

      • Duncan BROcleod

        She needed her beauty sleep, just like she did during Benghazi.

        • Mucho Macho

          All the talk about Trump being a sore loser and look who sent out her minion to send her crying supporters home.
          Btw..she was probably drunk. Something the media likes to keep on the DL

          • jim

            Bad loser..No class….I think people could feel the cruelty in her…a cold person…if you had to think of a word to describe HRC it would be “acid”….It is funny as hell listening to our indignant outraged punditocracy coughing and spluttering their way through this news…Never heard about HRC being a boozer. I just thought she was having a series of mini-strokes..

          • Duncan BROcleod

            Good points, jim and Mucho.

            If she’s upset about having to speak to her supporters, think of what Uncle Vlad and Assad would’ve done to her on the world stage if God forbid she actually were elected. Crisis averted, boys. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f41e7d0ef4a9b1f2ce832a1e9fb2e99682ca79f199770665577e2b747fe989e1.png

          • jim

            I think so too..We all dodged a bullet here..

          • Mucho Macho

            Run Forrest Run

          • Mucho Macho

            Read this Jim
            conservativetribune.com/is-hillary-a-closet-drunk

          • jim

            Bloody hell…maybe it was even worse than we thought ,eh? ….Exciting times macho..but lets be honest..a little bit scary too. Hope we’re right about The Donald.. All bets are off now… At least the MSM is dead and buried. They haven’t got a scrap of credibility left after this..

          • Mucho Macho

            You know the libtards will counter attack.
            but like I told a liberal friend of mine “You must love this shit”
            seen such a map completely red over the united states.
            You get to cry, bitch, moan & complain about sexism all day long.

            like I told a friend of mine before the election”I always go on with my life like the government does not exist, I always try to make my own living” but if the Donald can get at least a third of what he said he was going to do.. I guess I’m okay with that.
            At the very minimum being a fiscally conservative guy, growing up in the Reagan Era that was a cool, good thing . It was celebrated.
            It will be nice to see some of that back.

            Hows jolly England doing after Brexit Jim?
            so many were predicting the world was going to end But you guys are still Kickin It.

          • jim

            HRC was of course a globalist so she would have punished the Brits for Brexit . The Donald loves Brexit so a victory for him is great for GB..no question HRC would’ve fucked the Brits out of pure malice… Sometimes the system needs to be shaken up every now and again..Even Teddy Roosevelt said “A little revolution every now and again is no bad thing” It prevents the powerful from getting too comfortable….It’s better this way than stringing people up from lamposts.

          • Mucho Macho

            Agree.
            Its like masturbation during lunch break, it’s unorthodox but it must be done from time to time..
            wait what?!
            Nevermind😇

          • jim

            HaHa,,,never a bad time for that…It’s like the old joke.
            Q:”Describe the worst fuck you ever had”
            A:”Fantastic!!!!”

      • Just Some Polack

        Hey Mucho, here’s a fitting song for you to play over and over from now on…
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTUq8r-RGdM

        • Mucho Macho

          Hahahahahahahaha.
          I also need my beloved Rocky 4 soundtrack cassette tape from back in the day.
          No lie..still have it.

    • Duncan BROcleod
      • jim

        HaHa…see ya later…..

      • Mucho Macho

        Notice how these angry Liberals are always threatening to move someplace nice.
        I mean if you’re so upset about the wall …there’s always Mexico.
        But no.. They choose Canada which has a very little Mexican population ( 0.3%)
        I love languages & can speak spanish and grew up in diverse places but it’s just about laws & coming in the right way..legally.
        But these jackasses want to make everything about racism and discrimination.
        They want to have it both ways.. the point of equality is not to discriminate based on race gender or ethnicity but at the same time they wanted us to vote for Hillary just because she was a woman. But if you don’t want to discriminate based on gender because thats a non factor ..then we can’t vote for her if we think she’s not qualified.. Cause according to them the whole point is we shouldn’t make decisions based on gender but they wanted special treatment and wanted us to vote for her because she’s a woman
        PS..If these people were arguing a case in court, is a safe bet their cases would have been thrown out.

        • Duncan BROcleod

          Agreed, Mucho. Typical leftist hypocrisy. I was watching MSNBC this morning and one of the guests said something to the effect that “Hillary Clinton should be a role model for young children, especially girls.” I suppose that’s good advice if you want them to learn how to get away with shit for which anyone else would be punished severely. So much for their “class and gender equality.”

          • jim

            Agreed.. HRC would never use the expression “working class”..Trump used it all the time.The left wants identity politics based on racegendergays…pure sectarianism…so Trump used the same game on them..

          • Mucho Macho

            Coming soon to the left
            “Working Gay Anal Class”

          • Mucho Macho

            If our employer found out that we were being investigated by the FBI in various investigations, we will be put in a fucking Cannon and shut out of the fucking building .
            And yet this fucking cunt was about to be elected president!!
            not even McDonald’s hires you if you got that fucking heat on you!

            To me Hillary Clinton supporters are like members of the OJ Simpson jury back in the day. You could have shown a fucking video of the guy committing the crime and they still would have not believed it.

            And how many feminists will put up with a husband like that?
            why she put up with it? Because it’s a business arrangement between the 2.. and what kind of feminist need some man to move up the ladder of success?
            when it comes to Hillary Clinton, hypocrisy is the order of the day.
            We can be here all day pointing them out.

            Fuck Hellary!

        • jim

          Trump turned the left’s own weapons against itself
          spectator.co.uk/2016/11/donald-trump-played-identity-politics-game-won/

          As if wanting to control your own border was some sort of crime..!!…Mexico has a tough southern border …they only want a soft one up north.

    • Frenchie Pred the Imdb Legend

      The french must wake up in may, this is our last chance.

      • jim

        Something in the air Frenchie..you can feel it…In France, Holland too…all bets are off now..They’ve called us bigots once too often and now people won’t be shamed into silence anymore…If the left wants to play identity politics based on race then white people can do that too. I’d prefer not to..but this situation is all the creation of the MSNeducational establishment elite.. everything that is happening is a reaction to what has gone before… Marine lePen is a very smart lady.I’ve been reading a lot about her..Even the way she dresses is a form of communication…

    • Frenchie Pred the Imdb Legend

      Just checked a few stuffs and I was right, Trump is a sellout like Killary.Both works for the devil pal sorry, I wanted to believe too.

  • The Night Rider

    Now I’m REALLY hyped to see this. Can’t wait.

  • Eric Hutchison

    Great review. I haven’t seen it yet, but I plan to this week. I’m beyond happy that Mel Gibson is back behind the camera. Hollywood has desperately missed his talent.

  • Mucho Macho

    VIVA GIBSON!!!

  • Jacob Phillips

    Gibson is a boss. Good to know this got the seal of approval.

  • CARTMANEZ

    If you knock Mel down, just be sure to get the fuck out of there when he gets up!

  • Frenchie Pred the Imdb Legend

    I will watch this saturday.

  • Barney Ross
  • Barney Ross
  • Barney Ross
  • ChrisWhite

    One of my favourite movies of 20161 Hugo Weaving, give the man an Oscar!