The true story of Desmond Doss, the conscientious objector who, at the Battle of Okinawa, won the Medal of Honor for his incredible bravery and regard for his fellow soldiers. We see his upbringing and how this shaped his views, especially his religious view and anti-killing stance. We see Doss’s trials and tribulations after enlisting in the US Army and trying to become a medic. Finally, we see the hell on Earth that was Hacksaw Ridge.
I’m not a fan of runny-screamy-shooty stuff but I’ve gotta admit the battle scenes at Hacksaw Ridge were among the best war footage I’ve ever seen. So the least favourite part of any movie turned out to be the best part of Hacksaw Ridge. But we’re getting to that later.
First we gotta talk about expectations and audiences. Hacksaw Ridge was clearly made first and foremost with American audiences in mind. For different reasons: Firstly we gotta see in WW2 the Pacific theater was kinda very important for the USA, although it actually wasn’t of great consequence for the “real” war of that time, which happened in the European theater. So its outcome didn’t play much of a role for anybody involved in WW2. So worldwide audiences never quite got Hollywood’s fascination with the war in the Pacific, when the true war was happening at the battlefields of Kursk (largest tank battle in history) and Stalingrad (most brutally senseless battle in WW2).
Talking about Stalingrad: This was the ultimade turnaround in WW2, from which on Russia was in the offensive and Germany was moving backwards. Hitler lost the whole 6th army there, 300,000 men dead or POW, while the USA “only” lost 500,000 during the whole war.
But okay, let them ‘murkins have their own fun with their own little war and let’s analyze that flick now. After Mel Gibson almost repaired his renommée as a filmmaker with the grandiose Apocalypto we expected great things. I dunno if Hacksaw Ridge will be any helpful in his further recovery.
The first half of the movie is very much a been there done that kinda thing. If it wasn’t based on a true story I’d say it was not too clevely copied from a dozen other military training romps. I gotta say tho that Vince Vaughn did his part as the typical drill sergeant decently. The rest of the platoon was … well, okay while Garfield stayed pale and unconvincing in his role as a principled stubborn boy.
It didn’t become better during his court martial. Or did it? Maybe, and that would be great – if totally Un-American – Mel Gibson told Garfield to tone it down and leave the dripping pathos out of his character. I almost have the feeling it was exactly like that. What made me feel like that I will tell you in a moment.
Okay, up to now we got to see a fairly average dramolette, bordering on boring. Our hero meets a girl, gets bullied by his comrades and betrayed by the army. But all that just passed us by without leaving any impact on us. Gibson could’ve served us Garfield on a skewer we’d just said pfff…
Things get a bit better once Doss’s unit reaches Okinawa and gets tasked with the task to conquer a hill named Hacksaw Ridge. In a matter of seconds the movie gets turned on its head and we’re thrown directly into the battle. And what a battle that is, Spielberg would’ve been proud of Gibson’s direction here.
Remember how disappointed I was of the battle in Magnificent Seven (2016)? How Antoine Fuqua fuqed that up? Because it was a mess, with no sense of place or (geological) direction. Totally different with Hacksaw Ridge. The way Gibson shows us the advance of the American troops, meter for meter, and letting us not only know but feel where everyone is at any moment during the battle, was easily one of the bested battle reenactments ever.
The turn back to bad movie happens after the unsuccessful attack of the ridge, with the portrayal of Doss’s heroic action. I mean it’s impressively filmed and gives us the creepy atmosphere of an empty battlefield with only dead and wounded and one half-crazy religious nutjob on a mission.
Maybe it’s just me but I didn’t buy it. Andrew Garfield is a bad actor for me, sorry. So I really gotta say here, and I’m not alone with my opinion, that Hacksaw Ridge is nothing but an average war movie. Or anti-war movie. The difference became never clear for me by only judging the movies. The whole core theme of Hacksaw Ridge, Doss’s refusal to touch a gun, is not only badly played and directed but totally unbelievable from today’s POV. As we know by now only very stupid, immature or immoral … or poor people would touch a gun in the first place. So the whole drama for us went like *p00f*.
Where then did the 8.3 IMDb rating come from if the movie is so bad?, you ask me. Honestly, I don’t know, alhough I might have a hinch *wink wink*. But neither do I care. If I’d always go with the masses I wouldn’t feel the need to write my own spoilerfree reviews. And same as always, if someone payed me for a positive review … they’d get it. Watch me deliver!
To save Hackaśaw ridge a little we both noticed how unpathetic Mel
Broo Gibson staged the movie throughout. That’s kinda very untypical, particularly for this kind of movie. We were spared elongated scenes of torn American flags in the smoke, we didn’t have to listen to formulaic speeches or long winded explanations about the reason of war and all that shit.
But if that is a sign for a quality film, when the director does a bit less rather than too much, then I don’t have high hopes for the future of cinema anymore. It was exactly that kinda coldblooded sparseness that made Apocalypto so great. In Hacksaw Ridge it didn’t work, Mr. Gibson.
Why not? Because … oh my god, because they are two totally differnt films for vastly different audiences. While Apocalypto stayed on its course of a quasi scientific anthropological observation, Hacksaw Ridge tries to juggle two or three balls of different size and weight. And it can never quite decide which ball to play at any given time.
If Gibson could’ve at least stayed on the Hacksaw Ridge battle part, like he did so greatly in We Were Soldiers, or concentrated on Doss’s private ordeal, it could’ve become two very decent movies. Or indeed a bit more emotional and with a better, more charismatic lead. But overloaded like this with mediocrity it’s just one mediocre flick. Despite the great battle scene.
CONCLUSION TIME AGAIN: Knowing Mel Gibson is on a good way we put high hopes in Hacksaw Ridge. Particularly after hearing rumours about its greatness we were really looking forward to a great cinematic experience. And we got that indeed. But only during the battle of Okinawa. And even there we got to watch a WW1 trench warfare like battle man vs man. But it was great, nevertheless. The rest of the movie, as well as the actors, was pale and unconvincing.
The IMDb rating of 8.3 is grossly overdone and influenced in huge parts by glowing American patriots. This is what one reviewer on IMDb wrote:
I knew we were watching an epic film when at the conclusion, the audience was stunned so much so that the applause was delayed.
If you consider yourself a true patriot of America, this movie portrays YOUR values in a blessed light.
Can’t be much more pathetic, right? Wanna have this guy as neighbour?
WHAT THE REAL REVIEWERS THOUGHT:
“Dangerously close to parody”. Yeah, Mark watched the same movie like me. Only I avoided the term “cheesy” to describe Hacksaw Ridge.
Jeremy liked Andrew Garfield’s acting. Pfff… And he rates Hacksaw Ridge “uplifting” and “Awesometacular!” Double-Pfff.
Chris left the theatre “stunned”. 😮