Sunday, November 6, 2016

Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Image courtesy of Lionsgate.
Only Mel Gibson would make a film about one of history's most famous conscientious objectors and fill it to the brim with gore, exploding bodies and rats eating away at faces. This, however, should come as no surprise as Gibson's work behind the camera includes such bloodbaths as "Braveheart," "The Passion of the Christ" and "Apocalypto."

On the whole, "Hacksaw Ridge" is a well-made war movie with a unique figure as its central character. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was one of the first three conscientious objectors to receive the Medal of Honor. During World War II, he acted as a medic in the army and was credited for valiantly saving a number of men during the horrific Battle of Okinawa.

We first meet Doss as a boy when, during a fight, he nearly kills his brother after hitting him in the head with a brick. He later gets into a confrontation with his abusive father (Hugo Weaving) in order to protect his mother, but thereafter decides that he will never again engage in violence or touch a gun.

The early scenes with Doss as a grown man occasionally lean a little too heavily on the Virginia man's folksiness. Some of the scenes with his paramour, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), are sweet, while others are maudlin. When World War II breaks out, Doss wants to serve his country, but is conflicted about the violence involved, so he joins with the intent to be a medic. However, his commanding officers (Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington) aren't having any of it.

At basic training, Doss is tormented by his fellow officers, who ridicule his beliefs and even physically attack him. But once in battle, he proves his worth during the Battle of Okinawa, where he stays behind after his fellow soldiers have retreated back down a cliff, so that he can drag wounded men left behind to safety. Despite a slightly over-the-top moment during the sequence in which he awaits word from God, the extended Okinawa sequence is powerful, intense and well-shot.

The scene is also extremely gory. Bullets pierce helmets, bodies and faces, while legs are blown off and torsos split in two lay along the ground. On several occasions, Doss witnesses rats crawling out of the torn apart bodies of soldiers and whenever bombs go off, blood and body parts fly through the air. Is the film a little gratuitous? Perhaps. But the depiction of the battle, which takes up the final third of the picture, is unflinching and effective.

As a director, Gibson's obsessions often conflict each other on screen. His deeply held religious beliefs and use of Christ-like protagonists are often surrounded by brutal carnage and cruelty. That being said, he is a talent behind the camera. "Hacksaw Ridge" has its flaws and it's not on par with, say, "Braveheart," but it's a rousing, well-made, engrossing and grim war movie that tells a unique combat zone story.

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