Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge Review

"From the Academy Award winning director of Braveheart," says the trailer. Because apparently Hollywood can't say Mel Gibson's name anymore. Or maybe Lionsgate just didn't want to say his name in the advertising. Understandable choice, I suppose. Mel Gibson is not everyone's favorite human being right now, but he's directed some pretty dang good movies that many people have enjoyed. So instead of throwing a name of an unpopular person on the trailer, instead they chose to advertise the fact that this man has made some movies great movies in the past. However, I am not like Lionsgate. While they choose to not include Mel Gibson's name when talking about their movie, I'm going to talk openly and honestly about this man and his movie that he just created. If you make the decision to skip this movie just because you don't like some things that Mel Gibson has said or done in the recent past, well then it's your loss. You are choosing to skip one incredible movie. A movie that's one of the best movies of the year. Specifically if you are a fan of war films and you are alright with gruesome war images in your movies, then this is a movie that you absolutely must see!

Hacksaw Ridge is the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, an Army Medic during World War II who became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. I know that sentence sounds like a movie trailer, especially with my usage of the phrase, "incredible true story," but that's an accurate phrase. The story of this man is uniquely fascinating. I'm genuinely surprised it took all the way until 2016 to tell this man's story and I commend Mel Gibson for finding it and bringing it to the screen. I won't dive into Doss' backstory too much because that's one of the few things that's left to surprise here, but due to some certain circumstances in his life, Doss has decided that he never wants to touch a gun in his life. But then the Pearl Harbor attacks happen and he decides that he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't sign up to fight in the war. But he still won't touch a gun, which is a major problem because that's kinda required. He decides he wants to be a medic and do his best to save people while they're all out on the battlefield. But in order to do things his way requires a huge uphill battle as he has to try to convince his drill sergeant, which is easier said than done.

My biggest question going into this movie had to do with the agenda of the film. Was this an anti-war film? Was this an anti-gun film? Was this movie going to push a strong Christian message that not many agree with? As in, the Bible says thou shalt not kill. Was this movie going to try to convince people that this applies to war, a sentiment that most people interpreting that commandment would disagree with? If you had similar concerns after watching the trailers for this movie, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Hacksaw Ridge doesn't do any of this. Desmond Doss had made a very personal commitment for very specific reasons that wasn't even reflective of his Seventh Day Adventist faith. He never attempted to push any of his beliefs onto others and neither did this movie. This doesn't take a stance on any war-related issue, one way or another. It's just recounting the story of one man and his personal journey. And it's an incredible journey that I think everyone can apply in some way to their own life. It's the story of a man who believes something and sticks to that belief regardless of what everyone else tries to tell him and ends up making a huge difference due to his courage. I walked out of my theater feeling more inspired than any film I've seen this year.

If I were to make one major complaint right off the bat about this film, it would be that this chooses to follow a certain narrative choice that I wasn't a big fan of. The movie begins with the final battle sequence, then jumps back in time to show us how we got to that point. This is something that TV shows do a lot and it can work sometimes. But for the most part I think it's done too often. In this instance, I actually knew nothing about Desmond Doss outside what the trailers told me, which is what I described to you above. I knew that he would the Medal of Honor and that he had the interesting conundrum of wanting to fight in the war, but not want to shoot a gun. The specifics of how he managed to get from point A to point B was a complete mystery. I could've looked it up, but I decided to let the movie tell me what happened to him. And because of this narrative choice, the movie managed to fill in all of those gaps within the first five minutes as if I had just watched a spoiler-filled trailer or had a friend tell me the big reveal. That felt annoying. Had the movie not done that, I may have considered this nearly a perfect film. But alas it has that one stain.

With that out of the way, it's major praise from here on out. I have nothing else negative to say about this. The movie is definitely the story of two halves. Two very good halves, but two very different halves. The first half is the story of how Desmond Doss made it as an Army Medic. This is quite the story of courage and bravery. He had this rather ridiculous idea and literally everyone was against him. If I'm being honest, if I were in the moment, I would probably be against him, too. I mean, he wants to fight in the war, but he doesn't want to shoot a gun? Seriously? My philosophy is that if you don't want to shoot a gun, then you don't have to shoot a gun. But you probably aren't the right person for the military. And that's totally fine. It's not for everyone. It's certainly not for me, which is why I have the utmost respect for those who do choose that path. So yeah, this would seem like a confusing decision and I don't blame people for questioning him. Certainly not his sergeant. War is serious business and this skinny beanstalk kid says he's not shooting his gun. Like, really? Sounds like a man that's going to get killed in 10 seconds and be a detriment to his unit and his country. But despite all of this, Doss sticks to what he believes despite what everyone says and I think that's powerful.

Then we get to our second half. Up to this point, things have been pretty mellow. We've talked about war, but we haven't been in war. Not yet. But that changes. We have our troops marching up to Hacksaw Ridge and suddenly you get that feeling that you get right before you're about to take the first initial drop on a crazy rollercoaster because as the troops are about to climb up this cliff in Japan, you remember that this is a Mel Gibson war movie. Things are about to get real. In terms of his movies, if Mel Gibson is known for one thing, it's that his movies are violent and gruesome. Just think of Braveheart, The Passion of The Christ and Apocalypto. Hacksaw Ridge is no different. This is a violent, graphic, gory movie when we hit the war sequences. It's not gratuitous like a Tarantino movie. It just feels extremely realistic and it doesn't let up. We have several long sequences where blood is flying, bodies are exploding, guts are everywhere, rats are eating dead bodies, heads are decapitated, bullets are hitting left and right, limbs are gone, bodies are burning, people are screaming and more. If you get squeamish during war movies, you may want to skip this one. Mel Gibson makes an attempt to be as real to war as he can and that can be hard for many to watch.

In being realistic to war, this movie sends a lot of very powerful messages and thus this becomes a very somber movie. It's sad watching people you grew to love while the movie was leading up to this point suddenly gone without warning. You feel for the soldiers who have to watch their friends get killed left and right on the battlefield. You want to mourn with the families and loved ones back home. The pile of dead bodies makes you want to fall to your knees and cry. This is a brutal, emotional movie that hits you to the core. And then you watch as Desmond Doss proves everyone wrong and becomes one of the most courageous and loving individuals ever portrayed on film. I won't detail what he does, but it's inspiring. In fact, it's the most inspired I've felt watching a movie this year. Not only do you commend this man for his great strength and unbelievable bravery in what he did, but then you stop and realize that his actions is a very powerful metaphor to life. His goal isn't to save everyone on the battle field, but his goal is to save as many people as he can. And he does it one man at a time, saying this simple prayer every time he goes out for another rescue, "Please Lord, help me get one more." Wow. I was absolutely floored as I was watching.

Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss definitely pulls off a career performance here. I can't praise him enough for what he pulls off. He is able to perfectly encapsulate this character and thus successfully pull off one of the best and most emotional performances that I've seen so far this year. There's only five slots for that Best Actor category at the Oscars, but if I were judging based off what I've seen thus far, he'd easily be in. Definitely an Oscar-worthy performance from Mr. Garfield. The rest of this cast was pretty good as well. Teresa Palmer gives one of her best performances as his girl that has to watch her man go off to war. Hugo Weaving gives a very different performance than we're used to him giving as he plays his drunken, broken father who is damaged from his own war experiences. And Vince freaking Vaughan shocked the living heck out of me. I didn't even realize he was the drill sergeant until the credits rolled and that floored me. Then we have plenty of other great performances from the likes of Luke Bracey, Sam Worthington and others. Major props to everyone and major props to Mel Gibson for getting the best out of everyone in order to give us a phenomenal war film.

I could keep going. There's much more I have to say about this film. There's a lot to learn from this and a lot to love. Yes, I was annoyed that the movie spoiled the ending at the beginning because I purposely avoided researching Desmond Doss before going in and I didn't know his fate or exactly what he did and that took a little bit out of the film, but not much. I still agree with the masses that this is one of the best movies of the year. Not only is this one of the most realistic war films, thus intensifying the emotion and heartbreak, but this is honestly one of the most inspirational, spiritual films I've seen this year. If you're not religious, don't worry. This doesn't push a Christian agenda. It's not trying to convert you to Christ. It just tells a phenomenal story about a man who believes in Christ and uses his strong faith and personal beliefs to make a true difference on the battlefield and inspire everyone around him. Due to this movie's high level of graphic war scenes, I can't recommend this movie to everyone. But I will say that if you love war movies, this is one you shouldn't skip. Not only is this one of the best movies of the year, but this is one of the best war movies I've ever seen and I hope a best picture nomination is in its future. I'm going to proudly award Hacksaw Ridge a 9.5/10.

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