Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge – Unconscious Chaos

Written by Matt Butler November 24, 2016

hacksaw1Hacksaw Ridge is the kind of movie you’d expect Mel Gibson to make. It’s about a real-life hero shaped by the trauma of his childhood (ala-Braveheart) who persistently follows Christian principles despite the chides and abuses of his peers (ala-Passion of the Christ). It’s all the flavours (from blood-of-Christ to just-plain-bloody) that Gibson’s known to indulge in, with only a portion’s worth of reckless abandon.

The film centers on Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) a World War II US army soldier and conscientious objector. But unlike a soldier and his gun, these two distinctions don’t go hand in hand. Doss is forced to confront the rebukes of his fellow soldiers, his superiors, and his father (Hugo Weaving). In the end, he proves everyone wrong by saving the lives of dozens of left-for-dead soldiers.

Hacksaw Ridge is a film too gracious to smear its leading man. The only smearing in Hacksaw Ridge is with the colours red, white and blue. It’s so sweetly patriotic that it’s borderline saccharine. It’s a story lost in time, and as such, certain sensibilities can feel dated. Like when Desmond stares lovestruck at Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) for a solid minute. It’s unsettling for the moment, but with time, you come to embrace that about him. Garfield’s Doss is as amiable as he is admirable. He’s not a whole relatable character, but he’s one you can respect. What’s unique about this forwardly Christian figure, and missing from so many others, is that he isn’t a bible thumper. He isn’t there to convert, only to do his job by his own principles. And what he does inspires everyone who doubted him. After all, actions speak louder than words.

“Please Lord, help me get one more.”

At times, it’s hard to distinguish Doss among the bloodshed of battle. Other times, he seems to have disappeared altogether. Some of the more gory scrimmages go on for five minutes at a time without any sight of Doss. And I understand why. The juxtaposition of an amicable hero with his hostile surroundings. The problem though is that, visually, he’s only surrounded by this danger for brief periods of screen time. Most of Doss’ involvement in combat is sandwiched between haphazard shots of ceaseless gunfire. It gets so disorganized that the film pulls a sudden narrative ellipses right in the heat of battle, skipping ahead to the aftermath. My point is that if the film wanted to ascend from war porn to genuine excitement, we should have been locked in Doss’ perspective from beginning to end.

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This visual nitpick is my only real gripe with Hacksaw Ridge, and it proves damning. There are too many medium and close up shots to feel placed in the settings. I can understand why you’d use so many of them, sure. They give the actor’s face full visibility and emphasis, which is crucial for anything performance-driven. They’re also much easier to coordinate. But when you look back at something like Braveheart, shot in cinemascope with clear back, middle and foregrounds, it feels like Gibson might have missed an opportunity for another visually arresting war film.

“I don’t know how I’m gonna live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.”

Garfield’s loving portrayal of Doss is Hacksaw Ridge’s saving grace. He’s unique because he’s not a hero we’re used to seeing in a war film, much less a Mel Gibson film. Everything around Doss though, is standard affairs, something I think more meticulous cinematography could have redeemed. It may not be the violent slog that Passion of the Christ is, but it still feels it’s length. 

My Rating: 6/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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