From the Archives: Hacksaw Ridge review

From the Archives: Hacksaw Ridge review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

It isn’t my job to do this, but no one else is going to, so onward I push. What am I pushing for? Easy: IT’S TIME TO FORGIVE MEL GIBSON. Yeah, I said it, and it felt oh so damn good. #IStandForMel In a world where Terrence Howard beats more women than he makes good movies; where we all offer a hearty ‘meh’ in response to Roman Polanski’s truly disgusting crime; where Snoop Dogg can murder someone in cold blood but it’s okay because weed is silly . . . why do we still hold a recovering alcoholic who ran his mouth a few times to such a different standard? Look, I’m not defending what he said. In fact, I condemn it. The words that came out of his mouth were vile, terrifying even. Words have power, with or without intent, and the things he said were simply not okay . . . and I’ve said INFINITELY worse things while stone cold sober just because I thought I was being funny (I wasn’t). Furthermore, Mr. Gibson has MORE than made amends for his transgressions. He met with countless Jewish and African American leaders to discuss what occurred (and ultimately received “official” forgiveness, if such a thing exists). He’s gone out of his way to partake in customs with families from these communities in an effort to learn about their respective cultures and obtain understanding as to why his words deserved such a response. He’s even donated large sums to multiple cultural foundations, effectively putting his money where his mouth is.

And you’re asking: Why haven’t I heard about any of this? I tell you why.

BECAUSE MEL GIBSON DIDN’T DO IT FOR SHOW. He didn’t bother advertising his apologies because that’s what insincere apologies look like. His making amends was done for personal growth and understanding – and not to fix a broken career. This, to me, reads as someone who saw his own faults as an opportunity to improve and took measures to do so. That, dear reader, takes class.

I like my artists febrile, passionate, flawed. Take a look at your favorite movies/music/books. I bet you do too.

Congrats on ten years of sobriety, Mr. Gibson. That’s no easy feat.


But hey, if you can’t find it in yourself to forgive the man, I get it. The whole “sticks and stones” thing is just a lie we tell our kids anyway. So in the absence of forgiveness, I humbly request that you tap into your reserves of whatever it is that allows you to listen to Chris Brown, Motley Crüe, or R. Kelly; whatever it is that allows you to spend hundreds of dollars to watch a Floyd Mayweather fight; whatever gives to you ability to put your morals aside and just deal with the fact that, despite the countless assault charges leveled against him, it really is fun to watch an aging Bill Clinton play with balloons; because if you can step off the Outrage Express (the only train made entirely of glass) for just a short while, you’ll be treated to one of 2016’s most intensely satisfying films.

Still with me? Good.

Hacksaw Ridge is incredible. Equal parts schmaltz and grit, this is the type of film that would feel quite at home in the early days of Hollywood. Switch out Andrew Garfield for Montgomery Clift and it wouldn’t make a difference until well into act three. But even when the sweeping romance turns into a bloody war picture, old school values are still at the forefront. Above all else, Hacksaw Ridge is a compelling tale of conviction and goodness shining some light in a world gone mad.


Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a good ol’ southern church boy, and the first conscientious objector to ever win the Medal of Honor. Doss doesn’t feel right about sitting at home while all the other boys go off to fight in Doublya Doublya Two, but he also doesn’t feel right about killing anyone. In fact, he feels so not right about it that he refuses to even touch a gun. He decides to become a medic, much to the chagrin of his alcoholic Doublya Doublya One veteran father (Hugo Weaving, excellent), who would rather his two sons stay at home and be branded cowards than risk facing the same horrors which still haunt his days.

Before heading off to boot camp, Doss falls in love with a nurse because that’s how these things go. It’s a lovely romance, and even though it’s not the most developed piece of the plot, it still feels complete. This is due heavily to the chemistry between Garfield and Teresa Palmer (Lights Out). It’s here that Hacksaw Ridge feels most mired in old-timeyness, much to its benefit. If you are not charmed, you are a robot and I do not trust you.

Act two is boot camp. The drill sergeant is played by Vince Vaughn, leaving everyone on the planet wondering why Vaughn hasn’t already had a career stacked with name-calling drill sergeant roles. I could’ve watched a movie consisting solely of Vaughn verbally cutting into “”tough guys,” but I’m glad that Hacksaw saw fit to move beyond it, exploring the trials and tribulations that a man of peace faces in a world of vitriolic machismo. Vaughn excels here, showing a reluctant respect for Doss’s conviction juxtaposed against a need to maintain the grit which is required by the armed forces.

Oh and you know how Sam Worthington, as a rule, sucks? Well he’s excellent here. And Luke Bracey, the bobo Johnny Utah from the Point Break remake? He’s also great here.

Then comes the battle sequences, which make up the entire third act. I will not pretend I have any idea what PTSD feels like, but during every lull in the action, I felt something. Not since Saving Private Ryan has a war picture given me such an appreciation for how hellish battle can be. I spent the bulk of this act with my hands over my mouth, my mouth agape, and my eyes welling with tears. This is powerful stuff. Gibson’s vision of war is not neutered or stylized. It feels real. It’s feels visceral, and even though it’s a stark contrast to the ‘movie-ness’ of the preceding 90 minutes, it’s not a dishonest shift. War is hell, and we are there.


Cinematographer Simon Duggan gradually desaturates the color with each pass at the titular ridge. What begins with a palette and a richness similar to the boot camp segments descends into a smoky, dusty battlefield, awash with gravelly explosions, and punctuated by the glowing sizzle of airborne bullets. While a few sequences dip into clearly green-screened environments, the technique is used minimally. Most of what we see is real. Real dirt, real rocks, real smoke, and real fire.

This commitment to realism is what makes Doss’s battlefield heroics that much more impressive. A cursory knowledge of his story lets us know that he saves many lives on Hacksaw Ridge (a battle of attrition if there ever was one), but never for a second does the film lose the gravity of the unfolding action, nor does Garfield ever lose Doss’s temerity toward his faith – “Let me save one more,” he prays after each rescue.

As such, a lot of reviews have referred to Hacksaw Ridge as “faith-based.” This is no more accurate than calling any WWII movie faith-based. Yes, Doss finds strength in his religion, but so did much of America at the time (and now, really). This is just a cheap way for critics to link Hacksaw Ridge to Mel Gibson’s volatile and click-friendly past. “Faith-based” conjures images of Left Behind and Madea Goes to Camp. This is not that.

Whatever. You do you. But if doing you involves avoiding Hacksaw Ridge, you’re missing out on a fantastic cinematic experience. Hacksaw Ridge is an epic film of the grandest tradition, with a moral compass that all can get behind (I hope). And don’t let Garfield’s accent throw you – in the film’s closing moments we check in with the real-life Desmond Doss. It’s just how he talks.

Hacksaw Ridge opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site.

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