Would it shock anyone if I dropped this nugget of knowledge? I’m not a history buff. Yup, if there was a subject in school that I hated, it was history. I can’t recall many factoids from this morning, let alone points of history well before my time. Textbooks don’t make anything interesting, you know? That’s why I have movies. And before you rip your hair out in frustration, no, I don’t see period movies as historically accurate. I am well aware of that line of text that reads, “Based on a true story,” or any related lines. “Based on” is usually the key part to focus on. There will always be inaccuracies and creative liberties taken in the name of entertainment or pace of storytelling. But what I have done in the past is take the story I’m given and look up information that might have been skipped, or get a direct beat on what was falsified, or maybe even see what was tastefully changed. This story is probably going to have a similar effect on me.
Well let’s take a gander at the star power, the very reasons why I’m excited for this flick. Starring is Andrew Garfield (99 HOMES , the Amazing Spider-Man films, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK ). Say what you want about his turn as Spider-Man, I thought he was great. In fact, I liked his movies better than the Sam Raimi ones. I thought it was a great, darker update to the campier versions. Yes, the second film had a ton of problems, many of them reminiscent of the much-hated SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), but like I said, Garfield was awesome and I took him a lot more seriously than I did Toby Maguire. I know Garfield is a great actor, so I expect him to be amazing here. Next up is Sam Worthington (EVEREST , the Titans films, and AVATAR ), yet another underrated actor that I am a fan of. Now here’s a name I wasn’t expecting to see on here: Vince Vaughn (UNFINISHED BUSINESS , WEDDING CRASHERS , and THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK ). Once upon a time, this guy was a rom-com regular, and a well-respected funny-man. But almost as soon as WEDDING CRASHERS became old news, so did he. His movies began to become less funny, and more gimmicky… resulting in them being less funny. Sure, he keeps finding work, but he hasn’t seen the same success or popularity since 2005. Maybe a change of pace is exactly what he needs: a break from comedy and something more dramatic. Other stars include Teresa Palmer (LIGHTS OUT , WARM BODIES , and THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE ) and Hugo Weaving (THE DRESSMAKER , CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER , and V FOR VENDETTA ).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing is… um, wow, this I didn’t know… Mel Gibson (directed APOCALYPTO , THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST , and BRAVEHEART ). Well, er… yeah, this guy was an asshole and is an anti-Semite, but it’s hard to deny that he’s been a fine and entertaining actor in the past, what with the Mad Max originals, THE PATRIOT (2000), and the Lethal Weapon film franchise under his belt. Sure hope it’s as good as the critics are saying. Co-writing the screenplay is Andrew Knight (THE WATER DIVINER ) and Robert Schenkkan (TV shows THE PACIFIC and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN). Composing the music is Rupert Gregson-Williams (THE LEGEND OF TARZAN , a crap-ton of Adam Sandler movies, and HOTEL RWANDA ). Finally, the cinematographer is Simon Duggan (WARCRAFT , LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD , and UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION ).
Even though I may not support Gibson as a man, I can’t deny that this movie looks unbelievably incredible. The story seems unique, and the acting looks wonderful. I seriously can’t wait. This is my honest opinion of HACKSAW RIDGE.
Based on true events, set during World War II, 1945. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a good man who grew up a normal kid. But he’s a deeply religious and when he enlists in the army as a field medic, he refuses to hold a rifle. He is met with ridicule and disgrace as his peers talk down on him, and his superiors attempt to get him to quit. But when training is over, and a court martial rules that his right to enter a war zone without a weapon to defend himself is upheld. Before long, he’s sent to Okinawa, Japan to take a Japanese heavily fortified position called Hacksaw Ridge, and taking that position could lead to taking Japan altogether. A proposition that seems impossible due to how many American soldiers have already fallen in the first attempt.
I don’t know if I have the correct words. I’ll simply start with: it’s phenomenal.
I have to admit, this movie could easily have been way too preachy. I mean, think about the man this is based on. A religious man who refuses to kill anyone. I was so ready to hate this movie if it was going to have five minute long monologue sequences about passages in the Bible about not killing and loving everyone. But no, they surprisingly hold back on those and keep the focus on the man, not his religious beliefs.
Speaking of the man, Desmond Doss, his story makes for one of the most unique stories that can be told in a war film. Far too many films swing from one extreme to the other: war is bad, or war is great. But here, it’s not really about the glorification or the horrors of war. Well, okay, yeah, it is about the horrors of it, but it doesn’t go into some sort of analysis as to why. It’s not the theme, but rather the setting, if that makes any sense. The horrors set the stage for the hell Doss has to go through in order to carry out his duty as a medic and remaining true to his convictions, and I think Garfield knocked this so far out of the park that it’s a whole new comet in the heavens above. His performance is nothing short of inspirational, intense, heartbreaking, and… beyond better words. This is his single greatest performance of his career.
Another standout for me was, go fucking figure, Vaughn. Yeah, the man who’s career practically faded into obscurity is probably one of the best parts of this film. He plays Sergeant Howell, Doss’ drill instructor in boot camp and one of his commanding officers in the assault of Hacksaw. In the boot camp scenes, he’s phenomenally hilarious. Maybe that’s not what Gibson was going for when he was directing Vaughn, but he cracks me up. Or maybe that’s exactly what the two men were going for since a lot of that initial yelling consisted of Doss chuckling at all the exchanges. But as time passes in boot camp, he is a bit of an asshole too, by humiliating Doss, making him out to be another enemy to contend with. While it’s easy to condemn Howell’s actions, it’s also hard not to understand why he’s doing this. First off, the obvious, the army trains soldiers to fight; at the very least, shoot firearms. This is pretty damn crucial to surviving in a battle. Since Doss is the first ever conscientious objector, a soldier refusing to bear arms is completely unheard of. It’s obviously not morally right to do such things, but it’s not surprising either. But even when his comrades assault him for their extra punishment due to Doss’ actions, even Howell knows that’s going too far. Vaughn perfectly shows that level of confusion, frustration, even pity. This just might be my favorite performance out of him.
If I had one legitimate complaint, and I’m sorry, it really takes me out of the movie, is when Desmond meets Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) for the first time. Desmond helps bring in an injured man to the hospital and as the man is being treated, Desmond simply sees Dorothy in another room. And while there’s a man next to him bleeding and suffering in pain, Desmond slowly, in a trance, walks over to Dorothy in that room and just creepily stares at her for the longest time, not saying a single damn word. First of all, love at first sight? Really? Fuckin’ really? Mega barf! It was dated even back in Shakespeare times. Second, not an appropriate time to be getting your rocks off. Third, say something to the girl, dude! Holy shit, it’s a miracle that you got a first date with this chick what with that creepy-ass smile and silence! Fourth, yeah, somehow that actually works! Alright boys, if you see a woman that you’re attracted to, don’t bother introducing yourself first or making polite small talk. You’ve been doing it wrong for generations! Just walk up to her with a big ole creeper smile on your face, don’t blink, and definitely don’t say anything even when she acknowledges your presence. Instant panty-dropper. How could men have been so blind!? I would probably have overlooked this if it wasn’t for certain details. If that look wasn’t lingered on for so long and if this didn’t happen in two scenes.
Overall, this is a magnificent movie and I highly recommend seeing it. It’s a war movie, so be ready for some intense action and violence toward the last forty-five minutes, but it’s met with some incredible performances and an inspiring story about a real man who saved over seventy-five lives. It’s engaging, it’s emotional, it’s a truly amazing story. And it looks like I’m not the only one who thinks so. While I may not agree with IMDb’s 8.8/10 (as of 11/8/2016), I do agree with RottenTomatoes’ 86% (as of 11/8/2016). This is definitely one not to be missed. Muscle through the beyond awkward beginnings of Desmond and Dorothy’s relationship, and you’ve got one of the best war films in years.
My honest rating for HACKSAW RIDGE: a strong 4/5