Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson, war, epic, Oscar

Hacksaw Ridge (2017) – Review

As far as I’m aware, no-one talking about Hacksaw Ridge has raised the weird coincidence that twice within a month, Andrew Garfield has appeared as a young, idealistic insurgent venturing into a treacherous Japan fueled only by his faith (the other film, of course, being Martin Scorsese’s Silence). At least I assume it’s a coincidence – perhaps Garfield planned it, but the parallels are almost too blatant to be anything other than an accident. Once again he’s a guy presented with the chance to stay at home (in fact, he’s implored to stay at home on both occasions), but instead chooses to traverse the globe and risk his life in a country in which – it’s fair to say – he’s not very welcome.

For my money, he’s even better this time around. Garfield’s performance as Desmond Doss, the WW2 hero who saved over 75 lives without ever firing a gun (somehow, incredibly), is a layered, sympathetic and emotional one which entirely avoids the cliched pitfalls of playing the typical Hollywood hero – which isn’t to say the film itself completely avoids chunks of Hollywood cheese, but it’s always the film’s fault rather than its leading star. The performance is also totally committed – I talked about the commitment of Matthew McConaughey’s performance in my recent review of Gold – but this is commitment of a completely different kind. Rather than putting himself through extreme bodily transformations, Garfield’s dedication to the role seems to stem from a deep appreciation of the story and the incredible man he’s portraying. He cares about the material, and it shows.

Garfield has admitted how, while clinging onto certain regrets over the way his Spiderman career ended, it at least afforded him the chance do serious work with great directors, and on the evidence of Silence and Hacksaw Ridge, his career is the better for it. He’s just bagged an Oscar nomination, after all.

But of course, Hacksaw Ridge isn’t just an Andrew Garfield film. After that somewhat controversial hiatus, Mel Gibson’s finally back with a bang. And a crash. And a wallop. Like or dislike the guy, there’s no denying he’s a damn good director, and while Hacksaw Ridge is more Braveheart than Apocalypto (still his best film), there’s a lot to love about it. The abrupt brutality of the first battle sequence (which takes about an hour and a half to arrive) is almost literally breathtaking. Within the space of a second, we’ve gone from a fairly reserved movie about a young recruit fighting for his right to be in the army, straight into the bloody, hellish depths of battle. And it’s utter carnage.

Gibson’s real talent obviously lies in these scenes. There’s a sense when they arrive that this is what he’s been waiting for; a chance to let loose, like that scene in Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs when Flint goes psychotic with a pile of ice-creamballs. They’re so visceral and immersive and bloody that I practically felt weak watching it. I’d even go so far as to say these are the most intense battle sequences filmed since Saving Private Ryan. It’s a war film, and we feel like we’re watching a war.

If the rest of it had maintained the same skill in its quieter moments, we’d be looking at a masterpiece. Unfortunately it has a habit of indulging in some silly Hollywood “Hooah! America!” tropes and slightly on-the-nose foreshadowing towards the start. The religion angle also feels laid on a bit thick at times, but Doss himself claimed it was his faith that kept him alive, so it’s probably unfair to blame the film for that. I just could have done with it being handled with a bit more tact.


Verdict:

Aside from the occasional drop of Hollywood schmaltz, Hacksaw Ridge is an immersive, emotional and brutal war film that tells its incredible true story in a way that feels surprisingly fresh for a tried and tested formula.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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