Yesterday, we kicked off our Oscar countdown with this year's behemoth, La La Land. Today, we follow up with something wildly different, Mel Gibson's acclaimed return to Hollywood: Hacksaw Ridge.
The film suffers from a clear dichotomy in its narrative, as the first half is dedicated to setting up the battle after which this film is named, while the second half is an all-out massacre, replete with guts, gore and severed limbs. An introductory chapter is necessary, otherwise the audience would not know who the characters they're supposed to be rooting for are, and why they even should hope for them to come through. That being said, there are better ways to set up the story's grand moment than to run down the clichés, making the run-up feel like an adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' romance novels.
Gibson is of course not known for nuance or subtlety, but rather excels in violence, a talent which he has put to good use in his earlier work, putting on screen unforgettable battles in Braveheart, or stomach-churning torture in Passion of the Christ. The man understands both the visual and emotional strength of violence and combat, and in Hacksaw Ridge he has found the ideal canvas for his particular brand of cinematic slaughter, the Pacific Theatre of the Second World War.
With all the great and gruesome stories of regular men accomplishing extraordinary things in battle, it is surprising that his film centers on Desmond Doss, a simple man who, to stay true to his faith, refused to bear arms, yet volunteered to head out into the most brutal conflict in human history as a medic, in the hope of saving some lives. That he did, at the titular Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, earning him the Medal of Honor, without firing a single round.
Andrew Garfield, who also starred in Martin Scorsese's passion project Silence, plays the pacifist hero, and though he has garnered plenty of praise for his turn as Doss, the feeling lingers that several similar actors could have filled the part just as well. Perhaps this sense is due to the larger-than-life nature of the person depicted, but not a truly memorable performance in a year that's packed with them.
The battle itself, for those who enjoy such spectacle, is a sight to behold, a visual extravaganza of blood as hard-hitting as the whizzing bullets incessantly beating into human flesh, that still manages to stay within the lines of realism, never stepping on the landmine of gratuity.
So while Hacksaw Ridge stands as a well-crafted, visually impressive film about an immensely captivating man, it does little to explore the psyche of said hero, Desmond Doss, instead giving us a movie that is part Nicholas Sparks-vehicle, part thrilling war epic.