War movies are tough. Especially a war movie based on a true story. There are a lot of variables to be considered that need to be perfectly balanced for it to be successful. The two easiest ways to ruin one of these movies is by making it too graphic or by overdoing the explosions and level of action. But then again it can be criticized for being unrealistic and not true to the story if there isn’t enough of those things. An even bigger challenge is giving context to the characters without taking away from the overall story, otherwise the audience won’t be invested in the live or die moments that make the story so important.
Taking all of that into consideration, Hacksaw Ridge is a perfectly executed war drama that everyone should see.
I could understand if someone said it was a little heavy on the build-up and focused too much on the god stuff and the nurse romance, but those things were necessary. You needed enough time devoted to those things to understand who Desmond Doss was and what was important to him. Without it, his heroic actions wouldn’t have had the level of impact that made the movie so great.
There’s usually a moment in every war movie that makes you say “woah that was pretty messed up” but typically that’s reserved for a big action scene. Not in Hacksaw Ridge though. Nope, we had that moment very early when the Doss brothers were in a fist fight in front of their house and a brick gets involved. Our saintly main character became obsessed with never taking a life because he almost murdered his own brother by bashing him in the head with a brick. Classic brother stuff.
Before I get into all the things I liked about this movie, I want to give my one complaint. It’s a very simple complaint. I think Andrew Garfield sucks. I don’t think he’s a bad actor, he was pretty good in this. He was extremely convincing as a soldier in boot camp and in battle. His performance as a bible carrying shy guy taking a hot nurse on dates was a little less convincing but maybe that was just because he sucks at having a southern accent. I just think Andrew Garfield sucks and it takes me out of the movie. His enormous hair to tiny face ratio is distracting and I don’t like it.
Vince Vaughn on the other hand was PERFECT. We all know him now as a big time funny man but he started his career as a very serious actor. He’s a guy with a huge frame, intimidating face, and a booming voice. He can talk fast and deliver rapid fire insults. There is no one I can think of more qualified to play a drill Sergeant than Vince Vaughn. Hopefully this opens the door for him to get back into more serious stuff because nobody balances serious content with witty one liners like him.
There was a lot of great action in this movie. The battle scenes were pure chaos, but felt oddly appropriate. We know from history that the Japan side of WW2 was a complete mess compared to the European side. (I think people forget just how crazy the Japanese were in this war. I won’t get into it here, but give it a quick google.) The injuries were extremely graphic but it worked because the camera didn’t focus on it. A perfect example of this was when Doss dragged a guy into a foxhole for safety and you could see his legs were a tattered and torn up mess. The camera didn’t zoom in on the legs, the background noise didn’t fade out as the soldier realized his legs were gone, it wasn’t made into an important moment at all. It was just Doss helping this guy get some cover so he could give him morphine. That’s what made the action scenes work so well and seem realistic. Nothing was made into a big moment, there was no “if we do x, y, and z then we’ll win this battle”. There was a ton of stuff going on and even though the camera focused on certain soldiers at a time, there was an equal amount of action going on in the background. Really great strategy to symbolize that no soldier is more important than the others, despite rank or abilities.
Ok so even though I just spent the last half of that paragraph saying nothing was made into a big moment I need to point out one major moment during the battle. It wasn’t singled out in any way to make it different from the rest of the battle, so don’t worry my point still stands. It was when Doss tackles and fights a Jap soldier who was about to kill Smitty, the guy who openly hated Doss and thought he was a coward, allowing Smitty to shoot and kill the soldier. That changed everything. Everyone already knew Doss was serious about not killing anyone and wanting to save injured men by being a medic. But there was still a question about him being someone who could take action when needed and help his brothers win the war. This moment answered that question. He didn’t kill the Jap, but he didnt stop anyone else from killing him. From that point on Smitty was Team Doss and apologized for being such a dick…. which made Smitty’s death so tough. Really got the feelings jumping when he ended up dead, even more so when Doss brought his dead body down the ridge on his last trip. The air got a little dusty at that moment.
I’m going to give this a 90% critic rating, taking away points for allowing my personal feelings for Andrew Garfield to get in the way, and also for slightly dragging it’s feet during the whole nurse dating thing.
It gets 4.7 popcorns because it was so damn good.