Thursday, November 10, 2016

[Review] Hacksaw Ridge

With Hacksaw Ridge, Mel "Maniac" Gibson delivers his first directorial effort since 2006's Apocalypto. Based on the real life of Army vet Desmond Doss, this visceral World War II film is full of conflicts and contradictions, but at its heart is a moving tale of unconventional bravery.

Early on we're introduced to a deeply Christian fellow who goes by the name of Doss (Andrew Garfield). His ear-to-ear smile practically screams "Aw shucks!" Shortly before proposing to a lovely nurse named Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), he enlists in the military as a combat medic. But there's one glaring exception: He refuses to pick up a rifle. After overcoming some litigation hurdles and enduring harsh mental and physical ridicule from his higher-ups and comrades, Doss enters the frontline to not only prove his competence, but also his unwavering heroism.

It's both glossy and gruesome. The first half wallows in melodrama with its schmaltzy love story, lit with classical Hollywood sheen. But once Doss heads off to the Battle of Okinawa, the film trudges into some intense and harrowing war sequences. Gibson doesn't shy away from hurling blood, guts, headshots, and severed limbs into our face. (At one point someone uses a dead body as shield.) Oh yeah, and there's flamethrowers. In fact, the filmmaking tactics are so jolting and brutal that, stylistically, they feel more like stuff that's straight from the horror genre. A certain scene that takes place amidst underground tunnels is particularly heart-racing. And as expected, the story oozes with heavy emotion, piling on the stirring moments. Toward the end as I started to feel a lot of feelings, I briefly glimpsed around the theater and noticed each and every audience member wiping tears away.

The performances, for the most part, are terrific. Andrew Garfield, who's mostly known as the new Spider-Man and for his great roles in The Social Network and 99 Homes, is a tour de force here. He captures a relentless tenacity, as well as a modest sense of altruism. The English actor's southern accent even seems more convincing than a lot of American actors (at least to my ears). As for Vince Vaughn, although no stranger to darker and straight-faced roles (#TrueDetectiveSeason2), is awkwardly miscast. His comedic quips are amusing, but it's difficult to take him seriously as a hard-nosed Sergeant, especially within the tone of this film. The rest of the cast are fully game, though.

With all that said, the film is not without its controversial elements: There's the almost sadistic and exploitive views of violence. The sketchy depiction of the Japanese characters. And well, Mel Gibson. Still, we can find solace in our noble protagonist, who happens to be the antithesis of all those issues: He's adamantly against any form of violence. He aides the Japanese soldiers' wounds too. And well, he's not Mel Gibson. When the conclusion of the film arrives, it's pretty clear that Desmond Doss is no "everyman"--he's an extraordinary human being.

Hacksaw Ridge is an undeniably powerful film that serves an unbelievable story.

* 9/10 *

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