Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

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Good war-films are very disturbing to watch. The dramatic realism of modern digital effects spares little and many audiences will find Hacksaw Ridge (2016) one of the most violent sensory assaults that can be experienced in a cinema. If it were not a true story that celebrates an unusual hero the film could have been accused of a gratuitous display of unrelenting carnage and military triumphalism.

The film plays in two halves: the early life and romance of Army Medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) and the actual Battle of Hacksaw Ridge. Raised in bible belt Virginia, Doss had a troubled upbringing under an abusive father. A devout Seventh-day Adventist, he swore never to commit violence or even carry a weapon but felt duty-bound to enlist in the Army. Not long after meeting the one love of his life, nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), he enlisted with the belief that he could serve his God unarmed and without killing enemy soldiers.

Branded a coward and bullied to leave, he was eventually granted conscientious objector status and became one of the troops sent to capture Hacksaw Ridge in the Battle of Okinawa of May 1945. While the assault was forced to retreat under overwhelming enemy fire, Doss remained behind and single-handedly evacuated 75 casualties, lowering them by rope from an escarpment over 100 metres high. The Ridge was eventually captured and Doss became one of the most decorated heroes of World War II.

The heroism depicted in this story is of such an extraordinary magnitude that it can easily overwhelm any consideration of the film’s merits. With an uncomplicated and factual narrative arc, the story rests on two pillars: acting and filming. On both scores, this film deserves high praise. While the early life and romance chapter drifts towards melodrama, Garfield is cast to perfection as the wide-eyed and straight talking man of unshakeable principle and Palmer convincingly plays his adorable emotional anchor. Together with a strong support cast that includes several big-name stars, this is a powerful ensemble that carries the story convincingly.

The most outstanding element of this film, however, is its powerhouse hyper-realistic cinematography and spectacular set constructions that relentlessly convey the brutality of war. While it is an outstanding technical production, giving spectacle precedence over narrative is the film’s Achilles Heel. One or maybe a few helmeted heads shredded or bodies bayonetted can convey much, but twenty deadens the senses. If ever there was a case where less could have been more, this is it. Otherwise this is a gripping film with forceful storytelling about a remarkable war hero.

4

Director: Mel Gibson

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington

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