Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Movie with Abe: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge
Directed by Mel Gibson
Released November 4, 2016

A movie’s title doesn’t always explain exactly what it’s about. The easiest thing to do is to name a film after its protagonist since either that person’s reputation speaks for itself or the point of the movie is to show what they did and why they should be remembered, if it’s a true story, or brought to the big screen, if it’s fiction. Another popular option is to select an isolated event from a protagonist’s life and use that to frame his or her entire story, as is the case with “Hacksaw Ridge,” a film whose title houses its most powerful scenes but hardly captures the grander story it is telling.

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) grows up in Virginia in the 1920s and 1930s as the son of a drunk war veteran (Hugo Weaving) who constantly visits the graves of his many fellow soldiers who were killed in the Great War. When Doss nearly kills his brother as a child during a fight, he turns to his Seventh-day Adventist faith to guide him. His principles of peace make him an unusual candidate to become a combat medic, and his status as a conscientious objector earns him much contempt from other soldiers. As the course of his life and World War II take him towards the daunting attempt by American forces to capture Hacksaw Ridge, an important area held by the Japanese, the entirely good Doss’ true heroism becomes clear.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is about a person defined by purity, who won’t even fight back when others beat him because they believe him to be a coward, and won’t touch a gun because it contradicts what he stands for. His fearless ability to save people is incredible, and that’s something that this film manages to show in the final act of its 140-minute runtime. Everything that leads up to that is not nearly as compelling, featuring a background narrative that feels familiar and somewhat trite, embellishing certain events and developments in a way that isn’t fully convincing or urgent. Once the film finally reaches its conclusion, however, it feels worth it.

Garfield is an actor on the rise who has appeared recently in many projects, including another late 2016 release, “Silence.” Here he demonstrates an affability and commitment to his cause that is commendable, and though it may not be his greatest performance, the awards attention he is receiving is not undeserved. Teresa Palmer forms a strong bond with her costar as the nurse who captures Doss’ heart, and the two of them have tremendous chemistry. Comedian Vince Vaughn proves a strange choice to play Doss’ commanding sergeant, offering up unnecessary laughs, while Sam Worthington’s Captain is an instance of far more logical casting.

Director Mel Gibson, a man whose career has been plagued with controversy in the time since he made “Braveheart,” is back with his first film in ten years, a movie that tells an inarguably interesting story but isn’t its finest adaptation. The emphasis on gore seems extreme, but perhaps that’s meant to signify that even someone who believes so strongly in peace can’t stop the violence around him. This is certainly a good film worthy of praise, but it’s not one of the best of the year.


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