Hacksaw Ridge

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Hacksaw Ridge was one of the best films of the year.

And I never want to see it again.

I was emotionally wrecked coming out of Hacksaw Ridge, specifically the second half of the film, which was as intense of a war battle as I have seen on film in a long time.  It packed a serious wallop.

What made it even more powerful was that this was a true story.

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) had a troubled childhood, but made it through with his belief in God and his own personal feelings and ideals.  Because of those beliefs, he decided that he needed to enlist in the army to fight in World War II.  The problem… his beliefs also would not allow him to touch a gun.

This ideal caused an uproar among his unit as everyone involved tried to get Doss to quit.  He stuck to his conscience despite physical and emotional abuse from officers and his fellow soldiers.  Finally, Doss was allowed to remain with his unit as a medic, and he did not have to carry a gun.  Most believed that Doss was nothing more than a coward and would not be able to be counted on when the bullets started firing.

How wrong they were.

In a military operation to take a location in Japan called Hacksaw Ridge, there is a massive firefight between US and Japanese forces and Doss winds up stranded on the top of the ridge.  Undaunted, he began to single-handedly evacuate the injured while Japanese soldiers

These war scenes were as traumatic and disturbing as I have seen.  Director Mel Gibson captured the shellshock feeling as well as it could possibly be caught.  That was how I felt as the bullets started to fly and the limbs started to be blown off.  It was a savage look at war and it truly made me uncomfortable to watch.  I am sure that was the intention of the scenes.

It was also such a distinct difference in tone between the first half of the movie and the second half of the movie.  The first half told the story of Doss’s struggles to join the army and to fight for his beliefs as a Conscientious Objector and the second half everything is just blown to hell.

Andrew Garfield does a really great job in Hacksaw Ridge.  Everything he does is believable and he makes you care about this person whose ideas seem so foreign to our typical movie going experience.  Just the thought that there could be a person who goes into a war torn area without a gun to protect himself is a unlikely scenario.  I must say though that the film started with a flashback to a young Desmond in a fight with his brother and then flashed ahead five years.  I really had a hard time believing that Garfield was supposed to be as young as this movie implied.  He just looked too old.  I don’t think that would have been a problem if they had not had that flashback or if they did not specify how long before current day that was.

There were other wonderful performances here as well.  Hugo Weaving played Desmond’s alcoholic and abusive father, who was in the army during World War I, losing all of his friends.  Those experiences shaped the person that he had become. Weaving embraced this unlikable person, but did not allow him to become a caricature.  He was a complex person and Weaving displayed this beautifully.

Another great performance was given by Vince Vaughn as Sgt. Howell, Doss’s drill sergeant.  Vaughn played so far against type that he really stood out as one of the best parts of this film.  You could see how Doss slowly won this guy over as his acts of heroism and bravery shone through the agonies surrounding them.  In fact, you saw plenty of Doss’s fellow soldiers realize just how wrong they were about him.  He was certainly no coward.  He did things that very few men, women or child would even try to do.

This is a very impressive film because it shows how violent and unforgiving war can be and it approaches it in a visceral and traumatic manner for the audience.  It is unforgiving in its realism and its brutality.  However, because of this, for me, I will not watch it again.  Much like the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave from a few years ago, I do not want to put myself through this again.  I want to sit in the corner in the fetal position and rock back and forth.  That does not work, so instead, I will just not see this ever again (where as I have already seen Doctor Strange twice).

Mel Gibson deserves consideration for an Academy Award for best director, though I doubt that they will give him the nod.  His past racial comments have still made him persona non grata in Hollywood.   That is a shame because he certainly has done a brilliant job with Hacksaw Ridge.

5 stars

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