Mel Gibson’s unsurprisingly savage WWII film Hacksaw Ridge delivers the fiery-action goods. I was definitely impressed by the wild stunt work and some of the individual bits of action, and it’s truly lunatic/nuts of conscientious objector Desmond Doss to have done what he did in real life. The religious angle, thankfully, isn’t hit too hard on the nose, which was a surprise; the trailers were very off-putting in this regard and the movie just presents the facts as the facts – this guy just didn’t feel like killing anyone, but had it in him to save other people’s lives. Good on him. A bit insane to contemplate given the battlefield circumstances, but he’s certainly a “hero” in the squarest sense of the word. The movie is pleasurably old-fashioned and very familiar in the early stretches, some of the dialogue exchanges are corny (perhaps intentionally? it’s even sort of commented on mid-film…), and the scenes at basic training are very “seen it before” but Vince Vaughn clearly had some fun with his salty dialogue. But when the combat footage kicks in, Mad Mel went all out, really showing some savage and grotesque battlefield atrocities with tons of blood and explosions and lost-limbs.
Andrew Garfield is a very specific actor and his whiny vocal tone and lanky physical characteristics sometimes make it a challenge to fit with the material, but in Hacksaw Ridge, he showed grit and brawn in a way not previously seen. None of the film ever felt new or groundbreaking, but rather, it’s a solidly told war film that rose above the preachy and mildly embarrassing trailers. Teresa Palmer is also very, very photogenic. But it’s the action and stunt work in this film that I’ll remember the most, with tons of people getting lit on fire and blown backwards from grenades and mortars; I really don’t get how that stuff is done with any sense of true safety as most of the action felt very “done for real.” Also, annoyingly, there are some chintzy moments of odd CGI and process-shots; I hate that crap so thankfully it was kept to a minimum, with on-location shooting and practical effects ruling the day. Overall, the film looks frequently stunning thanks to cinematographer Simon Duggan and will definitely satisfy fans of the war genre. Listen – there’s no doubt that Gibson has some incredibly intense personal demons (as do many of us…) that he’s likely still wrestling with, but as he demonstrates time after time, he’s a helluva filmmaker.