It is practically a certainty that every year, around awards season, an ambitious director will attempt to seduce the Oscar panel with a glossy, dramatic war epic attempting the same majesty as Saving Private Ryan.
The war genre has seen contemporary hits, such as Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2014) and David Ayer’s Fury (2014), enjoy considerable success, but it is rare to find a film that deals with aspects of non-violence in war. For this reason, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge approaches the genre from an intriguing new angle and, thankfully, is a shade lighter than its bloodthirsty, Oscar-baiting predecessors.
Inspired by true events, the film follows Private Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) at the infamous Battle of Okinawa, as the US armed forces attempt a final push against the Japanese in the final days of the second world war. A conscientious objector, Doss refuses to even touch a rifle and insists on entering battle as an unarmed medic, to the extreme dismay of his superiors and unit.
Garfield proves himself a worthy leading man in the role of Doss, utterly captivating audiences with his portrayal of the private’s convictions. Garfield never lets up in his use of nuanced facial expression to drive home the suppressed anger Doss must have felt in being persecuted by his peers for refusing to take a life, and gives a consistently striking performance.
However, it must be noted that the true surprise performance of Hacksaw Ridge is Vince Vaughn as Sgt Howell. Vaughn seems to show up at the start of the second act for a moment of levity, utilising his signature comedic energy, but stays on to be a truly compelling character who proves to be integral to the arc of the unit in their challenge to accept and respect Doss.
This is all aided by a perfectly serviceable script which keeps audiences interested and invested until the credits roll. However, there are times when the film tries to explain character traits and motivations through exposition, whereas it may have been more compelling, and definitely possible, to have developed these more subtly throughout the action. This is further highlighted by slightly choppy editing, introducing implied plot points which feel as if they should have been shown in a previous scene.
Nevertheless, the film is definitely worth your money at the box office if you’re looking for an action-packed melodrama that leaves audiences uplifted.
Image: Youtube, Lionsgate Films