After having seen Hacksaw Ridge, I can’t decide if I liked or disliked, or outright hated, this film. Its a strange situation, because it truly is an average film, not because it is mediocre throughout, but because there are some moments of brilliance, and some truly terrible moments, so it all balances out and makes this a pretty middling film, which is upsetting, because the supporting this film has gotten made me expect something a little bit more. To be perfectly clear – I didn’t hate this film in the slightest. However, despite it being still pretty flawed, it is above average in quite a few ways.
The film is the true story of Desmond T. Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. This in itself should qualify for at least an interesting study of the meaning of war, and show a different side to the familiar narrative we are used to seeing. Unfortunately, rather than going in the direction of showing a fascinating individual in a very different way than we are used to seeing in this kind of film, Hacksaw Ridge goes the complete wrong direction, and resorts to something I cannot stand – unapologetic use of tautology, and I can say with complete confidence that Hacksaw Ridge makes use of each and every war movie cliché possible, and sadly, I cannot forgive that, especially considering the people behind the camera and the scope of this film. In a smaller film, I could let it slide – but unfortunately, Hacksaw Ridge tried to be a large and elaborate war epic, and I cannot abide by the rampant use of bad storytelling and mediocre filmmaking that is displayed so proudly in this film.
It is so easy to just list the flaws of a film. I hate criticizing films negatively because each film is difficult to make in its own way, and I like to see the good in even the most terrible films. However, Hacksaw Ridge is just so easy to target, because its flaws are so large, but mostly they are utterly avoidable – there isn’t a single weak aspect of Hacksaw Ridge that could not have been prevented by simply trying a bit harder. The biggest problem with Hacksaw Ridge isn’t that its a badly made film – it is that it is a film so undeniably lazy and mediocre in how it was made, it is difficult to see any good in it. There aren’t really any good aspects in Hacksaw Ridge, just enough above-average moments to save it from being a true travesty of a film. There were some shining moments that came close to making me reconsider this film as being an average film, but each time this film approached doing something even vaguely interesting or unique, it comes crashing down with some poor narrative or flaw in the filmmaking.
Let’s talk about the fact that Hacksaw Ridge manages to take every single war movie ever made, find their cheesiest and most ridiculously overdone moments, and composes nearly the entire film out of them. The overly artificial drama, the impassioned speeches – there’s even the apparently necessary “sergeant shouting at new recruits in the barracks” scene that is so popular for some reason (there’s only one film that does that well, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, a film that falls apart in its second act, but isn’t nearly as mediocre as Hacksaw Ridge). I can understand using clichés at some points – this is, after all, supposed to be an uplifting and inspiring story. However, it is rather a film that relies far too much on stirring up feelings of inspiration and patriotic pride, that it loses its way several times, and rather than being sewn up nicely with a powerful ending, it has the most excruciatingly boring third act I’ve ever seen in a film. Its a problem when the part of your film that is supposed to be the most inspiring is also the weakest segment of your film.
The performances in Hacksaw Ridge are not very good. Andrew Garfield puts in an effort, but he suffers from the same ailment that the film as a whole does – he tries way too hard. He portrays Doss not as the faithful, stead-fast hero he was, but rather as a bit of a reject. The story called for a performance that is strong but inspiring, but Garfield just doesn’t get there. The first act shows him as nothing more than a meek milquetoast with a heart of gold. The second act is slightly better. The third act dissolves into a mess, and Garfield just doesn’t do anything remarkable, which is strange considering that the third act gave way for something truly magnificent. Garfield is very weak in this film, and even if I did feel he did do his very best, that wasn’t enough. Maybe it was the fault of the script and the direction, or maybe Garfield just didn’t get the character right. Either way, it just didn’t work for me.
The rest of the cast is either outright terrible or wasted. Hugo Weaving gives the only thing close to a dedicated performance in the supporting cast, and Teresa Palmer is very good, but just is completely ignored in the rest of the film. Sam Worthington tries to show that he exists, and for some reason, Vince Vaughn is still trying to be a serious actor. I suggest he goes back to being the tall, far less talented Ben Stiller. Its better that way, and its better for your reputation, because no one wants their career to sink too low (but to be fair, can anyone go much lower than Fred Claus? I think not). The supporting cast of soldiers are useless, because they’re all the same generic young, white lads that give the exact same performance as “Soldier with Attitude” – I think a film where Andrew Garfield (who is a talented actor) rescues the performances of the people in this film would’ve been a far more inspiring story, and worthy of a Medal of Honor in its own right.
There are some good parts of Hacksaw Ridge – the cinematography is often beautiful, and the production design is incredible. The first moments of the war sequence is well-made and often shocking (in a good way), and even if his performance is weak, Garfield does try his very best.
Hacksaw Ridge is a dull movie. It has some moments of greatness, and while it isn’t terrible, it is by far one of the weaker war movies of recent years. There is very little going for it, and it is utterly forgettable. I didn’t really enjoy it, and I won’t be rushing to see it again. I would suggest this film to people with inherent interests in war stories, or those that can relate to this film’s faith-based message. Other than that, I would give it a miss, because this is a film where the message completely outweighs the filmmaking. Its an average film.
Note that I went this entire review without mentioning the director of Hacksaw Ridge – that was intentional. Everyone deserves another chance, but they actually need to be able to redeem themselves in some way, and to praise them (or criticize them) before they’ve actually done so adequately is not the best idea. Let’s see what this little welcome back to Hollywood does for him, hopefully he can redeem himself, and I hope he does, because like I said, everyone needs the chance to prove that they deserve another opportunity.
Unless you’re Vince Vaughn, then you should just stick to comedy.