2017 Oscars: ‘HACKSAW RIDGE’ (2016) Movie Review
Grandiose war films are often Oscar-bait, and rightfully so. If done right, they are epic tales of gory battles and choreographed chaos that sharply pull you into the movie. Nominated for many Oscars at the 2017 Academy Awards is ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, a movie that takes us back into a war setting, and does so by making the story less about the war, but acting more as a character driven drama that is as poignant as it is action packed.
Most war films are grand in scale and run time. ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ however, is very fast paced and a quick film, but that very minimally affects the movie’s dramatic impact. Set in the time of WWII, the story is about a young man, wanting to serve his country in war by saving lives, but refusing to take a life in the process.
The story is all about Desmond Doss, (Andrew Garfield) commonly known as a Conscientious Objector: someone whose conscience prevents them from serving in Armed Forces, or going to war for a variety of moral objections they may have. In ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, the concept seems pretty common place, but the twist is that Desmond actually wants to go to war, and has no objections with the war itself. His issue is with killing.
Desmond is shown to be a nice young man, very American-country with his boy-howdy’s, ‘Yes Ma’am’s and clean cut southern vibes. Earlier on in the film, we’re shown his reason for valuing life, after almost killing his own brother in a pre-pubescent fight. This belief is further cemented by his religious upbringing and a troubled family life with an abusive father. Desmond’s interest in medicine came from meeting his wife, (Teresa Palmer) a nurse whose experience further compounded Desmond’s views about the precious-ness of life itself.
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ takes this very core belief and sets it against one of the most extreme scenarios in everyday life, when killing is not only condoned, but praised and considered the ultimate peak of accomplishment. But seeing a father drink himself to death after being ravaged by the effects of war, and experiencing him take it out on his family, Desmond has a unique perspective of killing in war.
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ could quite possibly be the best War movie since ‘Saving Private Ryan’.
Based on a true story, the movie portrays its protaganist in a very idealistic light. Desmond’s experiences in war and his simple minded belief can almost be compared to that of Tom Hanks portrayal in ‘Forrest Gump’. The movie also spends a good chunk of its run-time developing his character, but mostly from the outside, for the sake of the other characters. It’s this, almost first half of the film, that is solely focused on Desmond and the constant testing of his belief by his peers, colleagues and superiors.
When Desmond joins the army. His refusal to carry a gun or engage in any combat training makes him a target as his superiors try to get him expelled in a variety of ways. They faill, as Desmond is firm in his resolve. These scenes are the usual montage sequences, but with a twist, as Desmond is harassed, attacked and mentally and emotionally co-erced into giving up and quitting the Army.
Where ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ diverges away from the typical war movie, is in the actual war sequences, which don’t even come up until almost the second half of the film. While most movies of this genre spend a lot of time on the ground and in the trenches, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, despite its title, is about one man and one incident that proves his courage to the world. And the movie brilliantly focuses only on that one incident as well. This isn’t about winning a battle or a war, this story is about Desmond Doss, winning over the hearts and minds of his fellow soldiers, and proving that beliefs don’t need to be abandoned when one’s will is tested to its limits.
Director Mel Gibson very smartly avoids all the typical war movie sentiments and cliches. There are no partiotic speeches about serving one’s country or melodramatic display of nationalistic hysteria. Even when Desmond provides his reasons for fighting, it’s as simple an explanation as can be stated. And very similar to the ‘with great powers comes great responsibility speech’ from the former Spider-Man. But when the action comes, it delivers some amazing war set pieces which is riveting from beginning to end. The peak of the film, post the big war sequence, is one of the most nail bitingly suspenseful, anxiety inducing and emotionally invested scenes in movie history.
Having gone from a superhero movie, Garfield is shockingly good in a role that has gained him the Best Actor nominee at the 2017 Oscars, and it’s definitely a deserved nomination. The actor conveys the necessary conviction of the character’s beliefs, his the frustration of being punished for doing the right thing, while coming off as down to earth and folksy. The only other performance that need be spoken off in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is that of Hugo Weaving playing Desmond’s troubled father.
A man very obviously suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Weaving’s character is violent, angry, abusive and tragic. His love for his sons are obvious, while the damage to his psyche suffered during his experiences in war may definitely have attributed to his son’s convictions. Weaving is so good, that you end up hating his character at times, but also feeling sympathy for him during others. It’s kind of surprising to see no Oscar Nomination for Weaving in the category of Best Supporting Actor. It’s also fun seeing Vince Vaughan as Desmond’s drill sergeant in this, who is entertaining, and it’s interesting to see his unique brand of insult comedy applied in a serious setting here.
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is enjoyable for many reasons. The movie starts off as a very slow, almost family drama about a kid, his sad home life, his courting of a new girl, and his happy ending. The movie then turns into the usual war movie, but with a twist, complete with training montages, hazing of the new recruit and heavy handed military formalities. The one massive war sequence itself in the movie is amazing. The visuals and anarchy are improved upon from other great war films, and the sequences are riveting and captivating.
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is less a war movie, but more of a character driven drama about one man’s convictions in the face of certain death.
But it’s the story of Desmond, and his actions after the dust settles, that makes ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ unique. His solitary deeds and the magnitude of them are amazing to watch. Since this was a true story, the ending of the film was in a way already spoiled or revealed prior to its release by media outlets, as well as the synopsis of the film itself. The third act has essentially been spoiled in log lines and media coverage, or even a simple Google search. However, to watch the events unfold, and to understand the reasoning behind why a person chooses to act in this manner, is really what ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is all about.
The sprinkling of real world footage of the real Desmond Doss definitely helps the story be further cemented in audience’s minds as a remarkable story of courage and conviction. It’s a nice conclusion to a deeply personal story set in a backdrop that we’ve seen many times before, but never through the ideologies of one person.
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is nominated for Best Motion Picture, Best Actor In A Leading Role and Best Directing at the 2017 Oscars.
The 89th Academy Awards will be airing on ABC on February 26th, 2017.