Review: Religion and war combine in cliché "Hacksaw Ridge"
Hacksaw Ridge is this year’s basic, Oscar-bait, cliché war movie. Mel Gibson’s newest movie stars Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector during World War II in the Pacific theater. Doss refused to even hold a rifle but voluntarily signed up for the military expecting to become a medic. He was met with a large amount of pushback from the military as he refused to even hold a weapon and defend his division, but he was legally allowed to continue to serve as a medic. He worked as a medic at the Battle of Okinawa and helped save the lives of 75 soldiers, while under constant grenade, mortar and machine gun fire. Exposing himself to the enemy multiple times, he used only a rope to lower the wounded men down a cliff face and only stopped when he was injured in the leg by a grenade and shot in the arm by a sniper. For this feat, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the first of only three conscientious objectors to receive the honor.
Doss’s actions and his character are the saving graces of this movie. An untold story of an incredibly unique soldier is exactly what the film needs in order to represent something more than another typical war movie. I really do appreciate what writers Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan are trying to do when telling Doss’s story.
It’s hard to miss the influence of religion in Hacksaw Ridge and Doss’s life. Doss’s religion is the driving force behind his entire character and the reason why the movie was produced. However, it seems a little heavy handed at times. There are several forceful examples of Doss’s religious influence: an unnecessary baptism image, the unlikely moment when Doss prays for the entire battalion as they wait for him, the scene where Doss calls out to his god asking why this is happening and what his god has in store for him. I am not frustrated that religion plays an integral role in Doss’s life and, thus, has to play a large role in the film. However, I am frustrated that Gibson and the writers are expressing a desire to convert their audience through these exaggerated sequences.
The movie suffers because it is basic and clichéd. While the protagonist’s story is unique, Hacksaw Ridge plays into every other war movie cliché. Some obvious cliches are the girl back home awaiting the soldier’s return and the one soldier who does not like Doss at first but later comes to respect him. That’s not to mention the character tropes of the cowardly soldier and the angry and comedic drill sergeant as well as the overdone hero shots and ridiculous slow motion. Do these cliches make the movie bad? In my mind, it makes for an uninteresting movie. Even with the unique character, the war film is really just another war film. The movie has its redeeming moments, mainly during the large fight scene, but it just isn’t great.
What must be said is how this movie could be rather polarizing to the audience. One part of the audience will see Hacksaw Ridge as a patriotic, religious war movie showing the great hero that is Desmond Doss. The other part of the audience will see the movie as a great anti-war film that shows the horrible effects of war on the individual. It’s similar to American Sniper from a few years ago; some of the audience claimed that it was a propaganda film, others saw it as a great movie to show the effects of PTSD and the horrors of war. But, even with the polarization, it is a very safe movie. Spotlight was the safe, Oscar-bait choice last year and I feel that Hacksaw Ridge is the 2016 version. It’s not trying to say or do anything very new and too unique. All of the elements of the film result in just an average film. If you like war movies, then you will like Hacksaw Ridge, but if you can’t handle blood and gore or you just don’t really care for the war genre, then I would advise you to skip this one.
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