“Private Doss, you are free to run into the hellfire of battle without a single weapon to protect yourself.” – Judge, Hacksaw Ridge (2016).
Personally, I do feel like I am extremely harsh on films sometimes. As my past reviews have taught us, and my future reviews will continue to do so, it’s almost impossible to get a five star rating out of me. Something has to go truly amazingly right for me to give even close to a five star rating. The reason I’ve mentioned this is that usually a film has to coax me into giving a five star rating. Hacksaw Ridge didn’t have to do that, it’s one of, if not, the best, war biopic of the 21st century.
Andrew Garfield is a fairly solid actor, but I did have my reservations about his casting as Desmond Doss. I had seen his acting quite prominently in The Social Network (2010) and he was pretty good. Why I had my reservations around his casting, I really do not know. What I do know however is that he is a truly remarkable performer, especially in this film. He was a bit shaky to begin with as my reservations surrounding the casting were still there. He managed to break through that and deliver a phenomenal performance. I’m not sure if Desmond is supposed to be thick as bricks, but Garfield portrays him as such at the beginning of the film.
The beginning of the film certainly paves the way into the action extremely well. It’s so calm and awkwardly peaceful that it becomes a time bomb for the war itself. Hugo Weaving portrays Doss’ father in what I can only say is his greatest performance of all. The very first scene we see him in, where he talks to the graves of the friends he lost, is some of the best acting I have seen from him in a very long time.
As far as performances go, if Weaving was in the latter half of this film as much as the first half then he would have stolen the show. He gives an extremely masterful and moving performance, but his character arc is finished by the start of the second act. To be fair, the ending of his character arc does lead in specifically well to that of Desmond’s. The two share some great scenes together.
Garfield and Weaving have some utterly superb chemistry throughout the first act of the film. Actually come to think of it, Garfield has some great chemistry with pretty much everyone. He’s very much the centre point of this film and it’s obvious as to why. He’s a talented actor, as is pretty much everyone within this film. Vaughn and Garfield’s chemistry in particular stands out as it has a nice little arc to it throughout the film and I thought that was nicely slotted into the film.
Someone that did honestly surprise me was Vince Vaughn as the Gunnery Sergeant and eventual ally of Doss. He’s usually a comedic actor but it’s extremely nice to see him get a change of scenery. Let’s be fair, he may not be as funny as he used to be, but he most certainly gives a convincing performance as a gunnery sergeant. The initial introduction scene to his character echoes tones of R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket (1987). It’s the perfect blend of humour and fear, and Vaughn nails this perfectly. Because Vaughn and Garfield share a lot of screen time together, the hopes are high for them to have a good relationship on screen. That they do, the chemistry and shared acting between the two is very good and culminates well.
There’s a certainly perfect blend of direction and acting throughout this film and I think that’s what makes Hacksaw Ridge work so well. Gibson is a master behind the creation of a scene and he knows how to create atmosphere truly well. The scenes of the initial attack are truly marvellous and possibly some of the best cinematography I have ever seen in a film. It’s gruesome, bloody and most importantly does nothing but add to the overall feel of the film. A couple of his directing choices don’t sit all that well with me but they are truly minor things. He cuts back sixteen years, only to cut forward another fifteen. I thought it was a very weird choice to make, but it’s such a minor part of the film that it doesn’t really matter.
There are two words I will use to describe the visual effects and violence in this film. Disgustingly beautiful. Sure, those two words vividly juxtapose each other, but it needs to be seen to be believed. Gibson’s work with the brutality of war is truly where Hacksaw Ridge shines as one of the greatest bits of modern war film. To be quite honest I’m surprised this got a fifteen rating simply because of how detailed the gruesome bits are. Soldiers lose limbs, die and explode left right and centre. It’s not that it idolises the war, it merely dramatises it so the audience get a feel of what it would have truly been like.
Five star films aren’t always perfect, sometimes they have one or two tiny little blips throughout. For me that tiny little blip was the romance subplot. Presumably it was there to embellish that feel good moment of soldiers returning from war. For me, it just felt a bit tacked on and sub par when compared to the rest of the film. I will admit though it does pick up during the actual war sections of the film, but the early stages are extremely average.
Hacksaw Ridge does wonders as both a piece of film but also as a saving grace to the career of Vince Vaughn. Much like Trainspotting (1996) revived my faith in Danny Boyle, Hacksaw Ridge revitalises my faith in Vince Vaughn. It’s nice to see him in a serious role and he’s one of the best parts about the film. To be quite honest it’s the perfect mix of everything that makes a war biopic enjoyable. The first act sets up the future aspects of the film nicely, with some light hearted banter between the main cast being frequent. When Gibson gets down to it, he can make a damn good and genuinely quite moving film.
I can’t help but think this film got snubbed at the Oscars. Garfield, Weaving and maybe even Vaughn all deserved at least some considerable award related nods, but received no such thing. Watch this film, even if you’re not a fan of war biopics, I can guarantee you will not be let down. It’s a truly marvellous film from start to finish. Struggling to put into words how good a film is one thing, but being completely speechless is another. All I can say is watch this film, it’s as simple as that.