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Review - 'Hacksaw Ridge'

Review - 'Hacksaw Ridge'

Hacksaw Ridge tells the miraculous true story about a soldier who brought life to a place of death. This film, while not quite perfect, does an amazing job of exemplifying what it means to be good, even when the odds are unfathomably against you.

Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge follows conscientious objector and purple heart recipient Desmond Doss. The film takes audiences through the many trials and tribulations of a man that wants to serve his country but refuses to take a human life. His will is put to the ultimate test in the notoriously bloody battle for Hacksaw Ridge. 

I think it's about time the world forgave Mel Gibson. The man has apologized numerous times and seems like he's just trying to get back into making and starring in good movies again. Moviegoers should be able to watch Hacksaw Ridge guilt free, because it is one of the best films of the year and depicts true bravery in the face of rampant hostility in a way that actually brought tears to my eyes a couple of times. It's good to have you back in top form, Gibson.

Though this is one of my favorite films of the year, there were plenty of instances, particularly in the first act, that could have very easily veered off into cliched territory. Yet something about the earnestness in which Mel Gibson directs every scene subverts any cringe I might have felt coming. There's a romantic subplot at the beginning that hits every sugary-sweet chord you might expect from a Nicholas Sparks novel, yet there is something more ebullient and charming about the way this budding romance is told that just made me stupidly happy. The first act of the movie is also wisely staged to starkly contrast the second and third acts. There's an Americana glow to everything and though not completely sunshine-and-daisies, the setting the film starts off in feels safe and cozy. Conversely, when Doss enlists he is slowly plunged into the terrors of war, which are effectively jarring, especially when juxtaposed with what came before.

One of the main reasons to see this film, and also maybe one of the most contentious is the film's depiction of the battle for Hacksaw Ridge. This battle features an unflinchingly violent series of sequences and while some have lambasted Gibson for contradicting the film's message of pacifism, I believe that the unfiltered brutality only strengthens it. I think it's important that people see the violence. Before Hacksaw Ridge I sort of lived in a haze where I knew what war was but never really completely internalized the horrors that ensued. This film shocked me out of that haze and made me despise the very idea of war. War is Hell and Mel Gibson has brought it to audiences in its rawest of forms. There are scenes in this film that rank among some of the most violent and disturbing things I have ever witnessed in a film. I'm not joking. That said, this movie certainly isn't what I would define as gore porn, it's just not afraid to show audiences the true costs.

When I watched the trailer for this film for the first time, one of my main concerns was Andrew Garfield's performance. The accent just wasn't doing it for me and he seemed like he was trying too hard. I don't think I could have been more wrong. Sure, the accent is a little much at times, but Garfield absolutely disappears into this role. I felt such sympathy for his character and when I looked into his eyes I felt like I could see the man Doss might have been in real life. Vince Vaughn is also in this as Sergeant Howell, and while I don't think he quite departed himself from his comedic persona, he was better than I expected and had some truly great moments as well. One of the best performances in the film was easily Hugo Weaving's portrayal of Desmond Doss's father, Tom Doss. This is a very troubled, complex character and Weaving displays a vast array of emotions in his performance. Tom Doss is a tragic character who has committed deplorable acts, yet you feel sympathy for him because he's completely heartbroken and constantly dealing with his inner demons. The movie also has good turns from Teresa Palmer, who plays Desmond Doss's wife-to-be, Dorothy Schutte along with Sam Worthington, who isn't amazing, but still held his own as Captain Glover. 

The film itself is shot beautifully. The most shocking realization I had was that it only cost $40 million to produce. This movie looks like a $100 million production and I have no idea what kind of wizardry they used to pull off some of the sequences on display. The lengthy battle scenes had to have taken months upon months of careful planning to initiate, and the final product is truly a technical marvel. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the emotionally charged score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. The memorable themes that permeate the film give off a subtle patriotism that is somber yet wholly uplifting at the same time. 

There will be a few out there that will likely feel that this film stumbles in various areas. They might say the first act is goofy or that the film's depictions of war are just too much, and that's fine. For me, Hacksaw Ridge is the perfect example of a war film done right. The movie exposes mankind's capacity for both good and evil and shows once and for all that, like Doss, you do not have to pick up a gun to be a hero for your country. 
 

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