By Kyeland Jackson —
Mel Gibson is at it again.
Flexing his director chops with “Braveheart,” “Passion of the Christ” and “Apocalypto,” the action star has shown he can spearhead critically acclaimed movies into success. With “Hacksaw Ridge,” he succeeds again but does so with shortcomings.
The World War II story follows a Virginia native turned combat medic, urged by the darkness of a violent past to never kill. Regardless of bullying, the threat of court marshall and fear of death, Doss saves a reported 75 men from a violent battlefield in the Pacific Theater.
The story is based on real-life conscientious objector Desmond Doss, who saved the men by lowering them down the ridge, one at a time, to safety.
Regardless of shortcomings, the story is moving and empowering. Coupled with stunning action scenes, the battles keep the heart pumping. But a gaping hole in the plot was Desmond’s brother, Harold Doss.
The brother is seen as Desmond’s first companion and sympathizer in hatred towards their drunkard abusive father, played by Hugo Weaving.
Harold announces he will be enlisting in the army during a dinner scene, leading to verbal confrontation between him and his parents. His father kicks him out and that’s the last we see of Harold. No mention is made of him for the remainder of movie, nor during the credits sequence. The established connection between the two is made only to be kicked out with no mention afterward.
There’s also extreme religious overtone throughout the film, which comes as no surprise considering Gibson’s declarations. Though the movie was decent, the angelic choirs, biblical symbolism and general religious tone could turn some off.
In terms of characters, there were true gems and others who fell victim to the film’s writing.
Andrew Garfield plays a leading role as Desmond Doss. Though he seems a strange choice for a war movie, Garfield’s wiry frame and performance perfectly encapsulate the physicality and mannerisms of a humble 1940’s Virginia native. Garfield excels at exuding the dualistic and deep nature of Doss, portraying a man tortured by the conventions and brutal practicality of the world around him.
Doss’s love interest is played by Teresa Palmer, who portrays a town nurse who eventually falls for Doss after he happens upon her in the hospital. In no fault to Palmer, her character felt wooden and two-dimensional.
The screen time and writing for Palmer’s character felt rushed and oversimplified, and her initially dismissive behavior towards Doss makes their relationship feel strained and nigh improbable.
Sgt. Howell, Desmond’s commanding officer, is played by Vince Vaughn. If the thought of Vince Vaughn in a war movie sounds strange, it should – his character attests to it. Vaughn comes off as funny and impractical, taking a “Full-Metal Jacket”-esque attitude to grill the recruits. His character feels like more of a joke throughout the movie, slinging funny quips during battle scenes.
While he functions effectively as a comedic relief, his character’s attempt to balance serious and funny falls short and we can’t take him seriously even when he’s trying to be.
Desmond’s father, Tom Doss, is the true gem among characters of this movie. Hugo Weaving gives his best acting performance as the Doss father. Playing the role of a war veteran haunted by battle, Tom is drunk and abusive to his family but shows deep love for them.
The best instances of this are talks with his sons as they reveal they’ve enlisted. Tom transitions from the guise of approval to an emotional wreck, dismissing Harold’s military uniform with the bloody recollection of a deceased comrade. Even when Desmond, the son Tom seems least taken with, enlists, he begs him not to leave for war.
Regardless of his appeal falling on deaf ears, Tom rescues his son from court marshall in a telling and convicted standoff during Desmond’s trial.
“Hacksaw Ridge” was a good action movie. War scenes were gritty and action-packed, the storyline was enthralling and some characters were impressive. Due to bad writing and casting choices, there were plot holes, lackluster characters and fizzling chemistry between actors. Gibson directed another good movie, but major things need tweaking before it becomes a favorite.
TLC Rating: 7/10