Everything ever posted on Our Movie Life is my own work written in my own words and expressing my own opinion. And now, for the first time ever, I’m posting something somebody else wrote. My very dear friend Asen Simeonov recently wrote a ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ review. Although I don’t agree with some of the stuff he has said, I think he makes a lot of good points. I thought that posting review on Sunday is better than posting another opinion article. So, without further a due, I give you Asen Simeonov’s review of ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. This is 100% his own work and is completely untouched by me.
A Film Review by Asen Simeonov
(Warning: SPOILERS BELOW!)
It is safe to say that “Hacksaw Ridge” is one of the best war films to come out of the 21st century and a tremendous comeback for director Mel Gibson. The movie is directed by Mel Gibson and stars Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving and a plethora of other talented actors. It tells the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who was a soldier in WWII, who, due to his religious upbringing and other reasons revealed throughout the movie, was a conscientious objector, meaning that he went to war on the condition that he wouldn’t carry a weapon. Instead of killing people, he wanted to work as a medic and save as many lives as he could. Gibson presents us with a movie which is at once shocking and brutal, but also inspiring.
The film is divided into two halves with the first one depicting Desmond’s trials and tribulations on his way to convincing his government to let him go to war on his own terms. This half also gives us the background to his character – the origins of his religious devotion, his relationship with his father and the romance between him and a nurse played beautifully by Teresa Palmer. The second half of the movie portrays his actual experience in war and couldn’t be more different than what preceded it in terms of pace and tone.
At first this distinction seemed like a tonal inconsistency – it’s like an entirely different movie starts playing from the moment the setting switches to the Okinawan battlefront. It was another half an hour or so until I realized how brilliantly this works for the story. In a sense the movie’s first act showcases war from the perspective of those who have not seen it. These soldiers are eager to fight for their country, full of confidence and glorified ideas of war. In stark contrast, as soon as the second half begins, they are subjected to the horrific, brutal, and unforgiving reality of the battlefield, and the sudden switch in tone and pace only contributes to this theme.
As for the performances, this movie is full of great ones. Andrew Garfield did a tremendous job portraying Desmond Doss, as he gave a subdued and believable performance that really makes you sympathize with his character and want him to achieve his goals. Even his southern accent was on point. What struck me the most about his performance, though, is the way he was able to express so much emotion with his face and body alone. In scenes such as the one after he gets beat up by his fellow soldiers, you can see so much anger, anguish and frustration just by looking at his eyes. You can feel how hard he tries to keep himself together, and that’s what makes you cheer when you see him succeed. His motivations are fleshed out wonderfully in the first half of the movie, and we do see his character grow throughout it. His growth is represented by the innumerable tests his principles go through – when he finally convinces his government to let him participate in the war, we have seen the importance these principles hold for him, which pays off in the movie’s conclusion. The movie’s first half lets the actors’ dramatic potential shine, with Garfield being a prime example, as well as Theresa Palmer, who gave a heartfelt performance as Desmond’s love interest and wife. While I found their love story a bit rushed, the actors totally sold it and their chemistry was flawless. Hugo Weaving stars as Desmond’s alcoholic, WWI veteran father, who strongly opposes his sons’ wish to join the army, because he knows what awaits them on the battlefield. His character was full of regret and anger, and Weaving portrayed that beautifully. What made his relationship with Desmond memorable is that instead of the typical alcoholic father – misunderstood child dynamics, we got a very nuanced and real relationship between a father who’s desperately trying to protect his child and the son who’ll never betray his ideals. Vince Vaughn’s turn as Doss’ strict Drill Sgt. is equal parts commanding and hilarious. He embodies the role perfectly, and honestly it fits him pretty well. All the other actors were also great and well-cast down to the last extra.
Whereas the movie’s first half gives the actors a chance to show off their dramatic chops, the second one is where Gibson’s direction really shines. He has long proven himself more than capable of helming big battle scenes, and the first firefight of this movie is no exception. Before we get to the actual fight, Gibson builds the tension up by conveying the soldiers’ dread and unease through the editing and the musical score. He portrays the titular ridge as a hell-on-earth type of area through the clever use of POV shots and an emphasis on the characters’ reactions. All of this tension mounts to one specific moment, where Gibson’s direction makes it look like the action’s about to start in three, two, and then it suddenly hits at two – one scream, a hundred or so bullets, and the mayhem begins. Now, I have watched a lot of cinema classics portraying war as hell, but this movie’s depiction of warfare wasn’t just shocking – it was genuinely scary and traumatic. Once it begins, the pace of the action never goes down. Constant gunfire, explosions everywhere, limbs flying, people screaming in either agony or pure ferocity, this scene could have easily been placed in a horror movie. It’s bloody, it’s disturbing, it’s a near perfect representation of warfare, and Gibson’s direction only elevates it. The action is comprehensible to a painful degree and the editing is near perfect. The rest of the action scenes are just as brutal and well-crafted.
The movie’s conclusion is very powerful and serves as the payoff for both Doss’ struggles and the stress the audience is put through in the war scenes. The way it’s shot and edited signify the character’s struggle and unrelenting drive, while Garfield excellently conveys them through physical language and the repetition of a particularly powerful line. After this moving scene, the movie’s tone gets much more optimistic and hopeful, as it almost fast forwards through the Japanese’s defeat and to the ending, and that’s my only real issue with this movie. The movie still is good after the conclusion, but it feels like a lot of the nuance of the story gets lost in the last ten minutes because of this fast-forward. It felt a bit rushed and didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the movie’s second half, but that’s pretty much it.
Overall I consider “Hacksaw Ridge” an extremely well-made film with a powerful and inspiring subject matter that stays with the viewer long after the movie’s over. It proves yet again that Mel Gibson is a master-class director and will probably go down as one of my favorite war movies of all time. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly urge you to do so in the cinema!
Well, that’s it! I think my friend made some great points, although I don’t agree with everything he said. What did you think of ‘Hacksaw Ridge’? Do you feel like it’s Mel Gibson’s big return? Share your thoughts in the comments section below! Don’t forget to like and share this review if you enjoyed it!
Thanks for reading,
Mickey Angelov & Asen Simeonov