Winner - Best Achievement in Film Editing

Winner - Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

LIONSGATE (2017)

 

Director: Mel Gibson

 

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn

War is hell.

 

Set in 1945, the movie is set in crazed blood-soaked Okinawa and the ascent to hell – Hacksaw Ridge. This is World War II without the German Forces, they have surrendered and the Japanese are fighting for every millimetre, happy to die for their cause and delighted to maim anything in their paths. Platoons have been lost in an attempt to take the area, next up into the fire is the 77th Infantry Division.

 

Including one man who refuses to fight – Desmond Doss (Garfield) whose weapon of choice is faith.

A conscientious objector and a Seventh Day Adventist, Doss feels it is his duty to stand against the Japanese and help end the horrific war. Unfortunately, his superiors don’t share the same beliefs and his attempts to pass the tests and enrol as a Medic are blocked at every opportunity – by red tape and violence.

 

Doss’ medical talents came to the fore as a youngster as he used his belt as a tourniquet for a stricken man, and whilst staying by the man’s side in hospital his eye is caught by the nurse on call, Dorothy Schutte (Palmer). Doss is smitten, his boyish charm wins the lady over and before enlisting, he asks for her hand in marriage. However, not everyone is enthralled by his enlisting – Doss’ father Tom (Weaving), himself a veteran of World War I and now suffering from PTSD and alcoholism, is further broken when Desmond signs up, having already seen his other son Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic) enlist. But enlist he does, and waiting for him is Sergeant Howell (Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Worthington), two men who don’t follow Doss’ ideals.

 

Mel Gibson has never been one to shy away from showing realistic, extreme violence/gore in his movies (looking at you Braveheart, Apocalypto) and Hacksaw Ridge lives up to his established standards. The bloody realism of war is laid out everywhere – intestines, body parts and blood cover the battlefield, maimed corpses provide stumbling blocks and a feast for the rats. Immolated soldiers with melting flesh scream for mercy and bayonets are mercilessly skewering anything that moves. The incoming aerial assaults land devastating results and cloud the air with thick fog. When one Japanese foray is foiled, the next arrives with even greater ferocity – there’s nowhere to hide, and Gibson utilises this terribly well. If you’re squeamish, look away…a lot.

 

Garfield is spectacular as the Doss, the unassuming young man destined to do right by his country and his fiancée. His performance brings a real human element to the wartime destruction and his facial acting is superb, displaying sadness, torment and defiance with consummate ability. Hugo Weaving’s portrayal of the broken father is powerful, a man struggling with himself and without answers, he ain’t no Elf King here. Palmer is sweet as Doss’ lovely lady and Vince Vaughn is surprisingly well cast as the drill Sergeant, echoing memories of Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket (though slightly more restrained)

 

It’s as much a character study as it is a war movie, however. We see young Desmond in a prologue before seeing his courting and eventual basic Army training. We see how he grows in experience with Dorothy, and how his experiences with his military roommates shape his decisions and being. His roommates’ dim view of him is explored – they seem to understand his beliefs but are incredulous that anyone could be like that in that time – and how their opinions change with action. As we move with Desmond, it provides a much needed breather from the roaring assault of battle. Every decision or event is placed against the backdrop of Desmond’s unwavering faith and underpins his staunch morals – Doss pleadingly asking God to allow him to save “just one more” during the bedlam being the embodiment of his ideals.

 

Maybe the battle scenes extend for slightly too long? The dramatic tension begins to evaporate after elongated exposure but when they hit, they hit hard. The movie is extremely well shot throughout, the cream tones of the Doss’ happier life with Dorothy jar pleasantly against the washed out tones of battle. There are times during the movie that it feels like two movies in one, the solider and his gal and the soldier at war, and for me this could possibly have been integrated better throughout.

 

A dramatic and gripping story of one of the war’s bloodiest times, Hacksaw Ridge is a fine movie that propels the story of the man who fought the war with bandages and morphine as opposed to bullets and machine guns. Immensely engrossing with a brilliant lead, this is one of the finest war movies put to screen.

July 24th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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