Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Rated R: For Intense Violence and Language

Running Time: 139 minutes (2 hours and 19 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Adventure, Biopic, Drama, War

Released on November 4, 2016 (US Release Date; Available For Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Cross Creek Pictures, Demarest Films, Argent Pictures, IM Global, AI Film Productions, Vendian Entertainment, Kylin Pictures, Pandemonium Films, Permut Productions, Summit Entertainment and Icon Film Distribution

Based on a True Story

Writers: Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan

Director: Mel Gibson

  • Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss
  • Vince Vaughn as Sergeant Howell
  • Sam Worthington as Captain Jack Glover
  • Hugo Weaving as Tom Doss
  • Luke Bracey as Smitty Ryker
  • Teresa Palmer as Dorothy Schutte

And we are back with yet another movie review about of Oscar-nominated flick, as we continue to review each of the movies I have watched during my stress remedy season! Before anything else, I just want to say that this film is truly worthy of the nomination. Yes, that is right! M. Night Shyamalan is not the only one making a comeback recently, but also actor slash controversy magnet Mel Gibson, as he is back at doing what he does best, making movies, although I could see him return to major acting roles some day, and his latest project will leave you speechless. In this post, Dateline Movies reviews this next Best Picture Nominee that is really inspiring, especially for a Roman Catholic like all of us in our family (potential religious bias aside), Hacksaw Ridge! Also, needless to say, spoilers ahead.

What is the movie about?

It was the age of war, and Desmond Doss, played by Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) a faithful Seventh Day Adventist who lives with his violent, former soldier father, Tom, played by Weaving (The Matrix Trilogy), and is in love with a local nurse named Dorothy Schutte played by Teresa Palmer (Lights Out), seeks to extend a lending hand to those who were sacrificing their lives for freedom's sake. However, he has a catch. He will support in the front lines as a medical aid, but on the condition that he does not carry a single firearm in the battlefield.

Preparing to enter the hellish war zone that is Hacksaw Ridge, Desmond is brutally mocked by his comrades-in-arms for his religious beliefs, with some of those who pick on him being Smitty Ryker, played by Bracey (Point Break Remake), and his superiors Sergeant Howell, played by Vaughn (Into The Wild) and Captain Jack Glover, played by Worthington (Avatar).

How far can Desmond Doss go through the scorching fires of war? Can he stay true to what he believes?

What we think of the movie?

Acting = (5/5)

Recently, I have read a lot about Andrew Garfield appearing in several Oscar-worthy materials, including last year's Silence, another religious feature which follows Garfield as a Jesuit priest attempting to rescue a colleague from captivity, and 99 Homes, which we will be reviewing sooner or later. I have not watched any of the two previously mentioned films yet, but while I am more familiar with his then tenure as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge clearly made use of Garfield's knack for drama effectively, and as such, his performance here is one of his finest in his entire career. Here, Garfield masterfully portrays Desmond as a relatable, peace-seeking war hero with pure energy and a whole lot of heart. The movie's tender moments, from his climactic rescue mission, to the scenes with his family and the love of his life, with the best scene making this claim evident being that part wherein he was temporarily incarcerated for insubordination, as well as during Smitty's ambush attack on Desmond, allowed Garfield to truly tug with our heartstrings with effortless charm.

I am not exactly a fan of most of Vince Vaughn's comedic outings, as the majority of them, for me, personally, come out as cliched or just plain badly executed. However, the moment Vaughn's Sergeant Holler debuted as Desmond's strict, wise-cracking drill instructor, I burst into tears with laughter.

For a serious movie such as this one, Vaughn was able to finally put his comedic amiability to very good use, with extremely lively, flying colors. As Desmond's superior with a very harsh sense of humor, especially in that one scene wherein Sergeant Holler made various insults towards his subordinates to get them ready for the battle to come, made Vaughn's character as a surprising standout persona, and in an instant, he just showed how much talent he can show when he is outside his usual familiar element. While he has recently been appearing in other dramatic roles such as the second season of HBO's True Detective, this movie might just pave the way for more, better roles for the actor.

Man, it really has been a long time since we have seen or heard of Hugo Weaving in a major motion picture production. As every fanboy's favorite villain actor, as he is notable for playing the nefarious Mister Smith in The Matrix Trilogy, the maniacal Megatron in the Transformer movie series, and as the evil Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger, Weaving has made audiences everywhere quake at his demanding on-screen presence. However, there have been some times wherein you cannot just help but root for his character, like in V for Vendetta and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Here, Weaving portrayed Desmond's father, Tom, who is now a depressed and disillusioned veteran of the First World after past wartime traumas. While we only get to see him in a few key scenes, Weaving's notable charisma made Tom Doss a tragic figure, who only due to past experiences, was turned into a man who has lost his way, and during the scene wherein Desmond is being tried as a "conscientious objector" (Someone who refuses to kill out of conscience), Weaving made Tom more than just a broken father, but a caring, and at least, a trying one.

Teresa Palmer is a great actress, although most of the roles she take are admittedly underwhelming. From The Sorcerer's Apprentice to The Best of Me, Palmer managed to shine despite the  fact that seriously, she could really deserve a big break. However, this movie was no exception, and while like Weaving, only appeared in merely a handful of key scenes, Palmer managed to make use of her limited screen time to make a mark in the flick. Here, we see the actress portray the anchor to Desmond's life, the light in the darkness that surrounds him in the battlefield, and outside, and similar to Garfield, managed to deliver some of the film's much more emotional scenes, and make audiences everywhere shed a tear or two in awe at her chemistry with Garfield.

For Worthington's and Bracey's portrayals of Captain Jack Glover and Smitty Ryker, respectively, two of other Desmond's foils and eventual friends during his time in the war, in small roles, they performed amiably well. Pretty good portrayals done in incredibly short amounts of screen time, if you ask me.

Direction and Quality = (5/5)

Come on, it is a movie directed by Mel Gibson, also known as the director of the award-winning Braveheart. Of course it ought to be shot beautifully, and executed spectacularly as it was.

The shocking battle sequences as well as its gory and bloody outcome has become a patent for director Mel Gibson, just like what he does at The Passion of Christ. You can see blood everywhere, including seeing a number of mutilated and dismembered bodies.  Almost half of the movie, you cannot see much violence, but once they venture into war, when Desmond and his company's arrival at Hacksaw Ridge, it has all become bloody and chaotic as one will definitely expect from a war movie.  The ending scenes featuring Desmond's daring rescue of seventy or more of his comrades (as well as some enemies), are fashionably well-done. Now those are fine examples on how to perfectly do an outstanding, pulse-pounding action scenes, and not like the ones which that we regularly see in other works, which are mostly lazily done or lacking in any actual tension. Don't even get me started on the naval forces bombardment of Hacksaw Ridge at their entry. That was amazingly shot!

Also, the movie does a good job at keeping you at the edge of your seat at every turn with the help of some minimal jump scares, including that spooky human-made alarm system (Those who saw it will understand that) and Desmond's nightmare sequence wherein he gets ambushed by enemy forces at night.

The score done by Rupert Gregson-Williams is resoundingly brilliant! His work here, with the accompaniment of his orchestra members, wonderfully blends well with the gripping nature of the motion picture, and in the end, we were treated to a delightful experience at the theater house.

Story, Dialogue and Flow = (5/5)

You know, stories that revolve around religious beliefs are usually doomed to be trashed by several critics and moviegoers, with the exception of those who are strong of faith. I am a Roman Catholic myself, and I have not seen movies such as God's Not Dead completely yet, but from what I have heard, it pretty much boils down to the cinematic equivalent of a philosophical lecture. That is not what a movie about faith should be. It should be, yes, true to one's standings, but it should not be, as most would say it, "on the nose", or too direct. Moviegoers expect to be inspired or be thrilled while watching in front of the big screen, not get bored to death with shallow thoughts. Hacksaw Ridge thankfully managed to make use of a true to life account of a faithful and strong-willed war hero, and turn it into more than just a tribute, but also a rewarding and thoughtful testament to a greater universal truth that will touch the hearts of anyone who watches it.

Like Arrival, I admire the film's efforts to place a lot of focus on the humanity of the characters, specifically that of the protagonist Desmond Doss. The further you progress through the story of Desmond, on the way encountering the real reasons why Desmond does not like using a gun in battle, which are eventually revealed to be because of him nearly killing his father while he was undergoing a drunken tirade with Desmond's mother, and him accidentally hitting his younger brother Hal, played by Nathaniel Buzolic (Needle) while playing, the more you root for Desmond, and in the process, probably relating to his inner turmoils.

The dialogue is phenomenal as well, especially Sergeant Holler's insulting quips. Most of Desmond's lines are actually pretty memorable, and they really know how to be life-motivating in a way.

But I will admit that this movie started out a little bit slow though, due to some expository scenes that explore further on Desmond's life. Stick with it, however, and you are in for one heck of an amazing journey.

Ending, Originality and Story Fulfillment = (5/5)

There are only a few, minor cliches here, and most of them here are are pretty much obvious and identifiable in a single glare. These include the "underestimated hero" in the form of Desmond Doss himself, and the theme of belief-based discrimination. But like I said, these are only minor, and in no way will any of these usual tropes will prevent you from enjoying the movie. Trust us, they will not.

By the ending, we see that Doss and his comrades are pinned down by several enemies, with Smitty and several of his other brothers-in-arms dying in the crossfire. With not much people left to fight with him, Desmond took it upon himself to rescue anyone who is still breathing in the battlefield, all the while evading captivity from his foes. After picking-up a lot of his comrades and safely delivering them back to the nearby shoreline through the use of a rope to guide their way down from the cliff, we are treated to a beautiful shot of Desmond dodging enemy fire from here and there to the tune of Gregson-Williams' perfect score. I am not going to lie. I actually teared-up for a short while, namely because it was just really, really, really beautiful!

With Desmond's valor honored by his teammates, he returns for another round of search-and-rescue, until he gets caught in a grenade blast while defending his peers. The film then closes with Desmond returning home to his now-wife Dorothy, carrying the Bible that she gave to Desmond.

Overall, this was a very fitting ending to an otherwise above-average war movie, complete with moments of raw melancholy and smartly executed thrills.
Overall Evaluation = (5/5)

On paper, it would appear that this film is just going to be another by-the-numbers war story, but thanks to a careful direction and performances that honor the real people that they are based on, this is a brilliant piece of cinema!

TOTAL = 25/25 (Masterpiece)

Hacksaw Ridge signals a major comeback for actor and director Mel Gibson and a showcase for Andrew Garfield's increasingly visible range of talents, as well as a heartfelt masterpiece that reminds all of us to stay true to what we believe in.

It is movies like these ones that give me a reason to write. It is basically wonderful beyond words, surely it will leave quite an impression on your faces, and your spirits will truly be raised. I also once heard that Mel Gibson is being eyed to direct the Suicide Squad sequel. Whether or not this is true, Gibson seems like he can handle the property.

It is still a shame that Andrew Garfield is no longer Spider-Man. He was very good in the role. And speaking of Spider-Man, recently, there has been quite a serious buzz surrounding the web-head's eventual fate in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Sony seems to be forming a strategy of their own to reclaim Spider-Man for their own, starting with a potential R-rated Venom solo movie? Uh-oh, this is not looking good. We can only hope for the best with Spider-Man: Homecoming, coming soon to theaters. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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