Friday, 18 November 2016
Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
With World War Two rumbling to a start, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) from rural Virginia enlists in the Army. Desmond grew up to despise violence, having been raised in a strictly religious family dominated by his father Tom (Hugo Weaving), a drunk, abusive and emotionally damaged World War One veteran. Desmond refuses to carry a weapon, and wants to serve his country as a medic. His anti-violence stance as a conscientious objector who nevertheless volunteered confounds the army. His unit Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) tries to drum him out, while his squad mates, including Glover (Sam Worthington) and Riker (Luke Bracey) turn against him and label him a coward.
With help from an unlikely intervention by his father, Doss eventually gets his way, stays with the army, graduates as a medic, and marries his sweetheart, the nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). His squad is dispatched to join the Battle of Okinawa, and quickly thrown into a meat grinder of a fight to dislodge the Japanese army from well-entrenched positions on top of a steep embankment labelled Hacksaw Ridge. With grim determination on both sides resulting in mass casualties on a brutal battlefield, the weaponless Doss will find his true calling.
The film is divided into three parts, with some flashbacks in the later scenes to fill in the gaps. The first third is an elegantly delivered coming of age love story, Desmond's background and formative years presented under the blazing sun of farm-bred innocence and the dark clouds of a damaged father figure. Key incidents from Doss's early life are efficiently presented, as he grows into a teenager willing to stand up to Tom, protective of his mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), and dogged in his pursuit of the ethereal Dorothy.
The middle of the film is a search for self: Doss knows he wants to be in the army, is insistent that he wants to go war without a weapon, and is stubborn about both points to the point of taking on an incredulous army establishment. Slowly he garners a grudging respect among the fellow trainees who don't understand him, but even the grunts and sergeants begin to admire something intangible in the gangly kid with a goofy attitude but a core of steel.
The foundations solidly laid, Gibson moves confidently into the final act, shifting gears and creating nothing less than hell on earth. Taking the opening 27 minutes of Saving Private Ryan as just a starting point in the realistic representation of battle, Hacksaw Ridge goes beyond what is easily imaginable, presenting a harrowing close-up vision of war and its destructive impact on bodies and souls.
The camerawork in the combat zones is superb. Gibson along with cinematographer Simon Duggan and editor John Gilbert keep the images rational, the cameras fluid, up close but only slightly jerky. The images of brutality, death, and heroism never compete with stunt directing and micro editing.
Andrew Garfield is serviceable and stays loyal to Desmond's admittedly dopey persona. Vince Vaughn finally demonstrates some acting chops outside of lame comedies, and enjoys a tremendous entry scene, Sergeant Howell invading the barracks of the new army recruits and exposing them to his brand of discipline and humiliation. Sam Worthington and Luke Bracey are the most prominent of the many fellow soldiers who endure the war with Desmond and witness or benefit from his exceptional audacity.
Hacksaw Ridge is an instant classic war film, a story of true love, religious conviction, dedicated service and remarkable bravery set amidst the worst form of perdition.
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