Conscientious objector, it’s a term that most people don’t entirely understand, myself included before I’d seen Hacksaw Ridge. I thought a conscientious objector was a person who refused to perform military service due to moral or religious reasons, but Hacksaw Ridge is a film about Deacon Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector who signed up for World War II military service and was on the front lines of the titular battle which took place on the island of Okinawa. What made him a conscientious objector was not his refusal to go to war, it was his refusal to pick up and use a weapon.
To say that Hacksaw Ridge‘s director, Mel Gibson, has become something of a controversial figure is an understatement. It’s not the place nor the style of this page to go into details, but suffice it to say that there are many out there who thought that his days working in Hollywood were close to done as we’ve seen little from him outside of smaller scale acting jobs for the past decade. Perhaps Mr. Gibson had just realized that discretion on his part was necessary for a while, and now he’s decided it’s time he can come back, because Hacksaw Ridge is quite the announcement that Mel Gibson is not done in Hollywood, yet.
This is definitely a Gibson style movie. It’s a little hackneyed much of the time. The dialogue is cliched and trite, the music swells and ebbs at exactly the appropriate times, and the plot predictable and overly familiar. But, when it comes to telling a story and gripping you emotionally through visuals, there is never any holding back, and this is where Gibson and his crew show themselves to be true artisans. I can’t speak to the authenticity of the battle scenes, as I’ve never fought in one, and certainly not in World War II, but I can say that the experience this film gives us is one that is brutal, visceral, and terrifying. The battle scenes here are quite comparable to the storming of the beach in Saving Private Ryan, except that here the scenes happen toward the last half of the film after we’ve already met the platoon and are invested in the characters, making the experience all the more gut wrenching.
Unfortunately, also like typical Gibson, everything about the storytelling which isn’t visually driven runs to the predictable and overdone. The dialogue is so typical Hollywood as to be laughable and distracting, the beats of the story are cliched war movie tropes from the chance love at first sight meeting just before going off to war, to the introduction to all the kooky characters in the barracks scene, to the inspirational speeches before a battle everything here is more than just familiar, it’s trite.
The acting in Hacksaw Ridge is also nothing particularly stand out in either a good nor a bad way. The actors do serviceable work, never calling attention to the fact that they’re playing a character, but also never going beyond stereotypes we’ve seen time and again either. The acting on display is familiar enough to never be distracting, but also so familiar that it’s rarely, if ever, inspiring, either.
The story of Hacksaw Ridge, aside from it’s focal character, is nothing we haven’t seen many, many times before. The visuals of Hacksaw Ridge, however, and it’s point of view do set it apart from the many which have come before it, and do make it a film very much worth watching. It may not stimulate much on an intellectual level, though the central idea of a man’s duty to country versus a country’s duty to a man does have some real heft to it philosophically, but emotionally it has one hell of an impact.
Rating: 7.0 out of 10