Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Directed by: Mel Gibson
A hacksaw to the senses
Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, who during WWII at the Battle of Okinawa, managed to retrieve an impressively high number of wounded men from the battlefield. Staggeringly, he did so entirely on his own as a combat medic and without a weapon. In his portrayal of our hero, Andrew Garfield undeniably carries the film. At almost 2.5 hrs, the film would be significantly lesser without Garfield’s performance which towers above those of his peers. But so did Doss’s deeds. And maybe that is the point.
Filmed almost entirely in Australia – more specifically Sydney and its surrounds – key locations were based throughout the Macarthur and Southern Highlands regions. Word is that even a private property in Bringelly was used for the filming of some crucial battlefield scenes. Therefore, it was in our very own backyard where Mel Gibson’s epic (which currently sits inside the IMDB Top 250 movies list) was brought to life. Hollywood was very much on our doorstep.
The promotional nature of the film rammed home the “Australian-ness” of the production, and upon viewing it is plain to see in both the landscapes and actors (Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Rachel Griffiths, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, Firass Dirani, to name a few). Unfortunately, this partly distracts from the ability to get totally immersed in the experience as it is glaringly obvious we are not in America. Nevertheless, I have to commend Mel Gibson’s championing of the Australian film industry which all too often suffers from our audience’s Australian cringe. Mel Gibson can direct – no question; Apocalypto being one of my favourite films. The actors can also act. However, with performances a tad overdone, accents slightly underdone, and OTT sound-tracking which is just a little too obvious, much of the film (especially the opening stanza and flashbacks) suffer from a heavy touch. Despite being so Australian in its production, Hacksaw Ridge veers early on into cloying Hollywood territory, suffused with pretension and melodrama which is a little too on the nose. This is in stark contrast to the visceral brutality evident upon entry into the theatre of war. Whether deliberately devised to allow the first battle scene to really hit home is debatable but when it does hit, it is truly distressing, terrifying, disorienting and discombobulating.
War is horror. Nowadays, it’s pretty hard to be shocked by that reality in a battlefield war movie. Recently, the most horrifying and unsettling war film was one which had nothing to do with the battlefield itself. Rather, Hungary’s Son of Saul was so striking because it contemplated the systematic barbarism and genocidal intent of WWII Nazism. It didn’t bludgeon our senses with the brutal reality of frontline warfare which more than enough films have done over the years. Hacksaw Ridge is quite obviously anti-war. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say the cinematography glorifies violence, it does certainly border on gratuitous at times, ostensibly enjoying the sensory-shredding bloodshed a bit too much. Mel Gibson’s films are notoriously violent. However, the structure of the carnage seems too focused on eliciting shock value.
All of this aside, Hacksaw Ridge still moved me. I was brought to tears more than once whilst trying to comprehend the truly incomprehensible ruthlessness of man juxtaposed against unfathomable selflessness. An uneven piece which doesn’t quite soar to the heights of Saving Private Ryan (think more Unbroken – similar in its focus on one exceptional individual’s exploits), it’s still a good film; and better than Unbroken. Andrew Garfield’s career is still relatively young and his performance here captivated me with the same break-out intensity he showed all the way back in 2007 with Boy A.
Not a modern masterpiece or even Mel Gibson’s best film, Hacksaw Ridge certainly merits a viewing. See it for Andrew Garfield’s outstanding performance, see it to support our film industry (regardless of the reservations I suspect some may have about Mel Gibson) or, if nothing else, see it out of respect for the absolutely magnanimous display of courage by Desmond Doss and his apparent humility to boot.
Not for the faint of heart; 3.5 red-crosses out of 5.
Hacksaw Ridge is available now on DVD/Blu-Ray at JB Hi-Fi.
Further Viewing: Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto
See Also: Saving Private Ryan, Unbroken, Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers, Hamburger Hill