Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) Cover

Hacksaw Ridge is both brutal and breathtaking. Mel Gibson has captured a miracle on film with downright outstanding performances. Only a few flaws prevent this film from being the best war movie I have ever seen.

The narrative depicts the true story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield). We follow Desmond as he joins the army and goes to war. He follows his convictions to contribute to the war, while refusing to bear arms during World War II. The broad strokes are true, and the writing depicts the challenges of his path.

Any movie that can make me feel an emotion writhe within my chest makes the list of movies I will always remember. Even the actors who are already great have turned in career highlighting work. Hugo Weaving’s delivery contained enough passion that it made me laugh and cry at the same time.

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No other character is as completely transformed as Hugo Weaving. They do each contribute something special and necessary. Vince Vaughn has the charisma and wit to challenge R. Lee Ermey’s Gny. Sgt. Hartman as the definitive drill sergeant. It his funniest role in years. I laughed far more than I expected to at his spot on comedic timing.

The biggest surprise of the cast is Andrew Garfield. I never expected Garfield to be able to make me feel anything, especially in such a forced dramatic role. It works, though. Though weaker than the rest of the cast, he holds it together. When you need to believe in Garfield’s delivery, he makes it happen.

I am impressed with Mel Gibson’s directing. Part of what makes Hacksaw Ridge work so well is how he has divided it. By separating the story of the path to war from the events of the battle itself, the narrative has room to breathe. Each segment has the opportunity to hit home in its own way.

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While both halves of the movie are excellent, the latter half stands as the more moving and honest. Though it would not have the weight that it does without the setup, the war is as brutal as anything I have ever seen. Stomach churning and suspenseful, the viewer feels pinned down with the soldiers. Gibson transports us from the warmth of home to the worst of battle.

I only wish the pacing were better. While both halves of the story are necessary, they don’t feel unified. This is jarring and it breaks the flow. It feels like two whole movies glued together at a clear and distinguishable seam.

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The other problem that undermined my enjoyment of the film was the ending. Hacksaw Ridge deserves a better ending. The last ten minutes of the film tacks on a generic action film ending to what is otherwise a masterpiece. This undercut my appreciation for the greater accomplishment.

That said, I still cannot recommend this film enough. Sad, funny, scary, and warm, it spans the full range of human emotion. Hacksaw Ridge evokes memories of the best war movies ever made, but falls shy of matching them. This may be the best movie this year.

Final Verdict:An achievement that is breathtaking and brutal. One of the best war movies of all time.