Monday 30 January 2017

Film: 'Hacksaw Ridge'

I'm aware that there are more than a few people around who'd discount going anywhere near this film because of its (infamous?) director, and I must admit to having, figuratively, to hold my nose on purchasing my ticket. But it's had such astonishingly good reviews that I was curious to see what the fuss was all about.

Mel Gibson (for 'tis he!) seems to be hell-bent on making the most violent films in history, and here he's at it again. However, apart from a brief bloody battle prologue (Okinawa 1945) all the guts and gore is confined to the second half.

Based on a true story (as every second film now seems to be), Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, Seventh-Day Adventist and conscientious objector, who enters the army and refuses to even touch a weapon, much to the ridicule of his co-conscriptees and the exasperation of his senior officers (including Vince Vaughan and Sam Worthington).
Before we get there we see Doss as a young boy in Virginia, with his brother, their strict, emotionally-distant father (the doughty Hugo Weaving) and their more protective mother (the ever-excellent Rachel Griffiths). 
Then it jumps forward ten years and we see the teenager (looking at times alarmingly like a young Anthony Perkins) taking a fancy to a hospital nurse (Teresa Palmer) in what looks like love-at-first-sight or, at least for him it is. They decide to marry but first he has to do his army service. Then the rest of the film's first hour is devoted to his training and the difficulties he faced with in following his religion. He stoically takes the barrage of ridicule aimed at him, and eventually the army gives in and posts him as medical officer, which absolves him from participating in actual combat.

The remainder of the film is this battle in Japan, a struggle to take the strategic clifftop site of Hacksaw Ridge against tremendous odds. Gibson pulls out all the stops and more to show the reality (I assume) of battle - and it must be the most extended battle scene I've seen in any film. (There is only one brief respite when night falls.) Plenty of gory killings, to be sure - mainly gunshot or grenades, also with some stabbings, but no slaughter is actually unduly lingered over, scenes being mercifully short while intensely graphic.

Garfield has been nominated for a 'Best Actor' award for this main part (as well as Gibson as director and the film itself as 'Best Picture'). I can't help feeling that what's behind it is more an effort to recognise the little-known story of the real Desmond Doss (who died just 11 years ago) rather than Garfield's performance who had to do little more than maintain a saint-like mien amidst all the belittling and rebuke he gets and then adopt the same tone in battle while struggling to assist as many injured as he can. It's been said that he well displays the character's emotional turmoil. Again, I'm not so sure. I think that his religious faith was so strong that there was little inner conflict for him. He knew how he was supposed to act according to his beliefs, so that's what he did, simple as that.
(I also can't yet forgive Garfield for the mumble-fest that was 'The Social Network'  of 2010).

I found it a very conventional film, despite the sensationalism of the depiction of battle violence and its being based on fact. One could guess where it was going to go, with Doss displaying scarcely believable extreme heroism throughout, putting just about everyone else to shame - the film's concluding captions telling how many lives he actually saved and that he was the first conscientious objector to be awarded a medal of honour for bravery.  

One thing I couldn't work out was, why were just about all the Americans white? Was this the way it was? During the army training scenes every single face was white. If there were one or two black faces in the battles I wasn't sure if they looked so because that was their actual complexion or were they white faces blackened by war-ravages, explosions etc? Certainly throughout the film, even in the early part, no non-white character had any spoken part. I don't recall seeing even a single such person in the early hospital scenes. Very odd.

I'm pleased that I saw the film, not least for having satisfied my curiosity - but as to giving it a rating I'm going to go way out on a limb with practically every other reviewer and confess that my experience was, basically, a shallow, memory-disposable one, and therefore I accord it with.................5.5.


  1. Replies
    1. That's it exactly, J.G. - add Mel's eternal obsession with depicting gore and there you have it!

  2. Ray,
    I saw "Braveheart" and liked it very much. Of course that was before I knew about Gibson's true character. I would never see another film by him, no matter how well produced and directed. For two reasons, I don't support racist homophobe people and I am not "entertained" by graphic violence.
    Another excellent review but I'll take a pass on this latest attempt to resurrect Gibson's career.

    1. Fully understood, Ron. I very nearly didn't see this for the very reasons which you cite, but was swayed by the outstanding reviews - which, in my opinion, were not justifiable. It'll take something really special (preceded by M.G.'s repentance for his past, and conversion to liberal values) to make me want to see another one of his films. But I think that's about as likely as Trump doing the same.