Hacksaw Ridge, 2016
Directed by Mel Gibson
Nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture
Desmond Doss is a conscientious objector. Or as he'd like be called, a conscientious co-ordinator. Doss is a young man of Christian faith and feels called to enlist in the army during WWII. He feels called to serve his country and to save lives. However, he also believes very strongly in the Biblical Commandment "thou shall not commit murder" and refuses to even touch a weapon. Based on a true story, Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Doss's strong beliefs, his conviction to stay true and his bravery in battle.
As a Christian myself I'm always hesitant to watch a Mel Gibson movie. I always feel like he's someone I should be supporting because of the "Christian" films he makes, but I honestly don't enjoy his films. They are hyper-violent to the point of gratuitousness and hit you over the head with "morality". And this is true of Hacksaw Ridge as well.
Hacksaw Ridge is essentially two different films. The first half tells of Desmond's life in small town Virginia. He's involved in church (cleaning windows and complimenting the choir? It's never really explained), he's always helping people and he falls in love with a nurse named Dorothy. Soon after his brother enlists in the war, Desmond knows he must too. But differently. He wants to become a medic and save lives instead of taking them. And soon he ships off to training camp where he is bullied for his beliefs and his commanding officer tries to force him to leave. The second half of the film deals with Doss's time in Japan, specifically on Hacksaw Ridge.
The first half of the film was Mel's usual subtleness- about as subtle as a ton of bricks. He uses stories that are only partially true and makes them fit this narrative he wants. Often Desmond will see something happening and have a realization right then. After being very violent and almost killing his brother as a child, Desmond helps someone injured in a car accident to the hospital and sees all these doctors and nurses saving people and realizes he wants to do that too. Gibson feels the need to have all of these epiphany moments that are a little too easy and make his point without trying too hard. The audience is babied and spoon fed the answers.
But the one compliment I will pay Gibson is, boy, does he know how to coordinate and film battle scenes. Again, they are more bloody and violent and graphic than they need to be. No seriously, I get the point that war is hell and seeing a few mutilated bodies gets the point across, but I don't need to see upwards of fifty mutilations, with either the camera focusing on the dead body or showing it happen in slow motion. Even the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan was more subtle than this. However, the highlight of the film (minor spoiler, but it's a true story and you probably know it already) comes when the battles stop and Doss stays on the Ridge overnight saving countless wounded men, all while not carrying a gun, at the risk of his own life (end spoiler-ish thing). This 20-30 minute scene is exemplary and it's a shame the rest of the film wasn't this well balanced. Gibson isn't hitting us over the head here but simply laying out what happened and allowing us to witness it. He really should take note that the rest of his films should be stylized more like that.
And to be fair, Andrew Garfield is also another highlight of the film. He is more than perfect for the role, being both very skinny and very pure and eager looking. However, I think history will forever be perplexed as to why Garfield finally (FINALLY) landed his first Oscar nom for this film, rather than Silence (which you should all go see, btw!) However, Garfield is really good here and I don't think anyone else could've played it better, or suited the role better, than him. Vince Vaughn on the other hand I felt was very wooden and is one of the most inane characters ever (was he even a character? He just seemed like a fake person that screenwriters create to embody the hatred and discrimination a person felt).
Hacksaw Ridge is not a great movie. It's a movie that contains a very, very excellent 20-30 minute sequence with some well choreographed battle scenes. Otherwise it is unsubtle in its morality and a little too hoaky to be taken too seriously. But it's another movie Christians will enjoy because the Christian gets a round of applause at the end and things end alright.
(But seriously, if you want a movie about Christianity and the struggle to stay true to your convictions, I'd personally recommend Silence.)