Movie Review: 'Hacksaw Ridge'
Opened: 26 January 2017 (UK)
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn
Director: Mel Gibson
Producers: Terry Benedict, Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, William D. Johnson, Bill Mechanic, Brian Oliver, David Permut
Director Mel Gibson’s fifth feature film as director possesses many of his signature strengths and a couple if his glaring weaknesses. Just like 1995’s Braveheart, Hacksaw Ridge has the makings of the great film but does not deliver in full because of a miscast lead actor (Um…why is Braveheart half the size of everyone else? And clearly not Scottish?! How did it win those awards?!). In the case of this latest offering some obsessing over themes close to the director’s own heart are also at fault.
Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a simple American country boy who enlists in the army to fight in WWII. Based on his true story Doss was a staunch pacifist and refused to carry a gun to battle, acting instead as a combat medic. Following their first battle he proves his worth, saving the lives of 75 soldiers from the battle field in seemingly impossible circumstances. It is a truly inspiring story that needed to be told. The first half of the film deals with Doss’ struggle to get into the army, firstly against the will of his father and then against the will of his commanding officers who see his principles as ridiculous and a threat to morale. The officers turn his company against him and he is shunned and beaten. He holds on and sticks it out, he has a point to prove and does so by saving many of his detractors. In the battle to come.
Garfield’s turn as the (not so) Amazing Spider-Man has allowed him to jump to lead man status but he is simply not ready. His performance falls flat right from the moment we first meet him and he fails to connect, he is just not likeable. In comparison Luke Bracey’s matinee idol turn as Private Smitty Ryker is warm, genuine and captivating. It is in the supporting cast that this movie finds its heart. A brilliant script, great directing and superb acting familiarise us with his regiment in only a couple of scenes. None of this would be possible without Vince Vaughn putting in the performance of his career as Sgt Howell, offering a layered and very real persona on very little dialogue. Hugo Weaving is stunning as Doss’ father Tom, and Teresa Palmer lights up the screen with every expression as the hero’s future wife Dorothy..
Thematically this movie should be a home run with audiences but I suspect that outside the good ol’ U.S. of A it won’t connect as well as it should (apart from Australia where it was filmed and mostly cast from). Garfield’s unappealing energy as Doss and a gung-ho glamorising of violent war heroics, in what is supposedly a pacifist’s tale, are detracting features of this otherwise fantastic movie. And while it is important to note the significance of Christian religion in Doss’ life, the narrative occasionally verges on proselytising.
A very different war movie, Hacksaw Ridge is an important story given life through amazing visuals, great direction and career defining performances. It is let down by a couple of significant decisions and for that it is likely to miss out in awards season (but then most of the awards are decided by the USA so I may end up eating my words!).