There are two main takeaways from Hacksaw Ridge: (1) even American acting jobs are now going overseas, as aside from Vince Vaughn every American soldier in this movie seems to be played by an Australian (included in that tally is Andrew Garfield, who I have since learned is British, not Australian, but still…); and (2) if the Japanese had just prayed harder they might have won the Second World War.
The Australian angle is natural since this movie is brought to you by “the director of Braveheart”. A similar thing is happening right now to Ben Affleck, now known as the artist who formerly directed Argo and the Town. Is this going to be a thing? Because I find it annoying that their actual names aren’t mentioned in the promotion of these movies at all. If the reference to their past movies means anything to you then you know who’s being referred to, so let’s say their name already and move on! Conversely, if the reference to the movie doesn’t mean anything to you then it’s unlikely to be a selling point. Either way, it’s wasted trailer time that could be better spent on spoiling more of the plot.
Incidentally, if the intent behind not putting Mel Gibson’s name up front in the marketing was to create some separation from those all-too-frequent racist comments in Mel’s past, it might also have been a good idea to cast at least one non-white guy. Just saying.
The prayer angle refers to Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh Day Adventist who was the first American conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. Doss doesn’t want to kill anyone or even hold a gun, but he still enlists during WWII to serve his country as a medic. In typically American fashion, his refusal to carry a gun while training to march into a hail of bullets is viewed as a sign of cowardice rather than bravery (or insanity, or a mix of both). His objection is based on religious grounds as well as a bad childhood, and due to his objection every soldier he comes across in basic training looks down on him and tries to force him out. Fortunately for them, he doesn’t hold a grudge, and hauls 75 of them off the Okinawa battlefield even after they made his life so rough.
Doss’ story is an incredible one and Mel Gibson’s direction does it justice. It’s a bit over the top at times, and you may get tired of the battleground shots being blurred or showing just the barrel of a firing gun or being in slow motion complete with matching audio. Despite that, the movie shines at the important moments, naturally displaying Doss winning over his detractors and putting the audience at Doss’ side as he sneaks through enemy territory looking for one more wounded soldier to save. Though the characters are largely one-dimensional, the cast led by Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington deliver quite a few memorable moments, including some well-timed humour amongst the horrors of war.
Hacksaw Ridge is cheesy and over-the-top in a mostly good way, and the sum of its parts is enough to overcome some significant flaws. Its unusual perspective and celebration of a dogged outlier makes it a worthy addition to the bloated catalogue of WWII movies. Hacksaw Ridge earns a score of eight cringe-inducing battle wounds out of ten.