Hacksaw Ridge Review

War sucks. That’s the simple message behind nearly every Hollywood war movie. Beneath all the bravado, heroism, and sacrifice, you can usually find that straightforward ethic. Hacksaw Ridge preaches that same rule, but takes a decidedly blunt approach.

American WW2 films can often be fitted into one of two categories: The John Wayne, patriotic triumphalism of combat or the brutal pointless hell of war perspective popularized by Saving Private Ryan. Many movies will cherry pick from both ends of the spectrum, but will mostly stay in one lane. I mean, what lunatic would combine cornball, painfully sincere crowd-pleasing with wall-to-wall gore, destruction, and slaughter? Enter Mel Gibson.

Mel Gibson loves his martyrs. From Braveheart’s William Wallace to The Passion of the Christ’s…well, Christ, Gibson enjoys filming his heroes pummelled, beaten, and tortured for their cause. In Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson distills this obsession to its purest forms. The results are…brutal, to say the least.

Ridge is really two films. The first half is patriotic slice of Americana peppered with speeches on commitment, faith, and self-resolve. The second half is a bloodbath of carnage that looks like an extended series of outtakes from Rambo 4. To call it whiplash inducing would be an understatement.

The film follows Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, sporting an American accent and a willingness to be abused), a religious pacifist in rural America during WW2. He decides to enlist, much to the horror of his WW1 veteran father (Hugo Weaving, always nice to see). Doss refuses to pick up a weapon due to his beliefs, but still wants to be in the army. After enduring abuse from Sam Worthington (remember him?) and Vince Vaughn (horribly miscast), Doss finds himself fighting Japanese soldiers on Hacksaw Ridge as a medic.

The first part of Ridge plays to Gibson’s weaknesses. It’s saccharine and sweet to the point of nausea. Every shot of rural America is framed like a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s broad, and the actors follow suit. Garfield is fine, if a little artificial, but he’s lucky to be the main character. He’s afforded characterization and depth that elude the rest of the cast.

For an hour, Ridge is every cornball war movie you’ve ever seen. Then the second half hits.

Ridge might be the goriest WW2 movie I’ve ever seen. Heads explode, bodies are shredded, limbs fly into the air, and that’s all in the first minute. The moment Doss steps on the battlefield, Gibson slams the pedal and never lets up. It’s a violent hellhole that just keeps escalating. Doss himself disappears for large sections as Gibson devotes his time to insane brutality. It’s viscerally thrilling, not to mention shocking.

But Gibson’s true target of violence is Doss. He makes sure the main character suffers and struggles for his pacifist beliefs. Doss is beaten, shot at, choked, and punched in his efforts to save people. Gibson punishes his martyr for his convictions.

I realize this review hasn’t really, y’know, reviewed the movie yet, but that’s because I’m split down the middle on it. Its cornball first half is insufferable, but it does a good job of making you complacent so you’re shocked by the war scenes. Its battle set pieces are well-made and exciting, but maybe lean to hard on killings, especially since its message is anti-violence. It’s intense and gritty unlike most WW2 films but its dialogue and depiction of the Japanese are thoroughly retrograde. I keep chasing myself in circles, finding new flaws and features. I don’t think I’ll fully settle on a firm opinion of the movie, although I find more positives than negatives for the whole experience.

If you’ve got the stomach for cheesy writing and disgusting bloodshed, Ridge is worth your time. You might not like it. Hell, you might hate it. But it’s sure to spark up a debate with your friends and yourself. That’s worth something.