365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge > Saving Private Ryan. That was what I claimed immediately after my theater viewing of Mel Gibson's (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) newest film. I've since slept on this, but haven't entirely backed down from this statement. However, it has been awhile since I've seen Steven Spielberg's 1998 Best Picture and I really should have watched it again before making this bold claim. Nonetheless, it doesn't take away from Gibson's film. Hacksaw Ridge was based on a true story whereas Saving Private Ryan was not. For me, when all else is equal, gives the nod to the one that is more factual based. Don't get my wrong, Saving Private Ryan was an amazing movie. The Invasion of Normandy Omaha Beach to open the movie was one of the most captivating and memorable action sequences in the history of film. When I made the claim that Hacksaw Ridge was a better movie, I almost inserted the caveat that "outside of the opening 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge is a better movie." But that seemed like a copout. If I was this passionate about Hacksaw Ridge, I couldn't spoil it with some kind of condition that limited my case.

Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, 99 Homes) is still waiting for his first Academy Award nomination. He's a fine actor who, at 33 years old, is still very young. I think most of us will agree that he's at least a pretty good actor, but let's be honest...he hasn't really allowed himself to show his range as an actor. He first entered the national consciousness in 2012 in The Amazing Spider-Man reboot, taking the Peter Parker/Spider-Man character to highs and lows that Tobey Maguire was never able to accomplish. He showed some promise when he worked opposite Michael Shannon as an ethically challenged real estate broker whose job it is to tell homeowners who can no longer make payments to the banks that their homes have been foreclosed on. As good as this movie is and even though Garfield is the lead actor, this is Shannon's movie from the start. Garfield never had a chance to star in this movie that Shannon could have received an Oscar nomination for.

Things are a little different in Hacksaw Ridge. Gibson (this man can direct a film) puts all his eggs into the basket with Garfield. And Garfield knows that this chance to shine and he does just that. Now while it's still early in the Oscar season, a case can be made for Garfield to get his due. As of the time of this post, I think he might be on the outside looking in. I think the Academy will shut him out because there is enough competition that includes men who have "paid their dues" more than Garfield has. Is that right? Of course not. But that seems to be the way that it works and it's been shown time and time again. Of the five nominees, it looks like a few are already locks. These include Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Denzel Washington (Fences), and Joel Edgerton (Loving). Most have Tom Hanks getting nominated for Sully which leaves Garfield, Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Warren Beatty (Rules Don't Apply), and a host of others vying for that final spot. Without seeing any of these other movies yet other than Sully, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing Garfield get recognized and I do think that in some years that this performance would be good enough to get a nom.

There are so much that is great about Hacksaw Ridge. I'll go back one more time to the Saving Private Ryan comparison. For as great as Saving Private Ryan was (and it was great), all the pieces were in place to make this a much stronger story than it was. The director was perfect. The cast was perfect. The cinematography was perfect. The sound was perfect. Everything was set up perfectly after the first scene that you could have taken the movie in so many different directions. Yet, the idea of sending eight men on a mission to rescue the only remaining son of a mother who had already lost her other three boys earlier in World War II. So when you compare this movie with a movie like Hacksaw Ridge that has all the same elements AND is based on a true story, it becomes easier to give the edge the one that is based on a true story. And unlike many movies that are inspired by true events or based loosely on a true story, but then you find out that there were tons of discrepancies, the Hacksaw Ridge truly followed form. If you're curious about the fact versus fiction of the movie, please visit http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/hacksaw-ridge/.

I remember hearing that this movie was "bloody". While this is true, it is not this way at all for more than the first half of the film. In fact, the first half of this film COULD have been PG-13 if the language had been toned down some. There were not any action scenes at all for the first half of the film and I think the film works so well because of this. Unlike Saving Private Ryan which lets you know from the opening minutes that you are in for a gut-wrenching couple of hours, Hacksaw Ridge builds to its battle scenes. The first half of the film describes Desmond Doss (Garfield) as a young boy living in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The year is 1928 and Desmond's life revolves around his family. This includes his brother Hal, who he loves but is constantly fighting with, his alcoholic and abusive father  Tom (Hugo Weaving - The Matrix, Transformers) who was never able to overcome the loss of so many of his friends in the first World War, and his kind-hearted mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths - The Rookie, Blow). Desmond's household is an extremely religious one, but there is always a hint of violence that hangs overhead. There is one scene in particular that shapes him for the rest of his life. Desmond also has an internal knack or desire for wanting to help people. This too helps to really define his character. On top of that, he's an extremely personable and honest man who adheres to his core values.

He sees it his duty to enlist for World War II even though he is against violence. His main reason for doing so is because two of his friends in town tried to enlist but were unable to pass the physical. And so he enlists and sets out to basic training at Fort Jackson much to the disappointment of his parents and his new girlfriend Dorothy (Teresa Palmer - Triple 9, Lights Out).  At basic training, Doss quickly makes friends with many of the men in his unit including Smitty (Luke Bracey - The Best of Me, November Man), Vito (Firass Dirani - television's House Husbands), Ghoul (Goran D. Kleut - I, Frankenstein, Gods of Egypt), and Hollywood (Luke Pegler - television's Home and Away). This is until they learn that he refuses to carry a gun. Then he is deemed a coward, particularly when his bully sergeant (Vince Vaughn - The Internship, Old School) clouds their minds by telling them Doss wouldn't be there to have their backs while in the middle of a battle. What others fail to mention is that Doss is there to save lives and not take them. He has studied to be a medic and will be with them every step of the way. He just refuses to carry a rifle (or work on the sabbath) because of his religious and personal beliefs. Sargeant Howell much like Doss's commander (Sam Worthington - Avatar, Everest) are old school and try to get him discharged from the army. When that doesn't work, he is labeled as a conscientious objector. He doesn't appreciate that term, instead choosing to call himself a conscientious cooperator. Regardless, he's looked at by others in his unit and others as a black sheep.

Eventually, the 77th Division makes it out of training and find themselves in the allied invasion of Okinawa, an island 340 miles south of mainland Japan that the United States wanted to use an air base to attack Japanese forces. With its caves, tunnels, booby troops, and camouflaged combatants, Okinawa nearly impenetrable. Couple that with the fact there was a jagged 350-foot escarpment that had to be climbed with cargo nets before any sort of hand to hand combat could ever take place and you had a nearly impossible task at hand. While other divisions had failed, Sergeant Howell and his men had the courage to at least try to get closer than any of the previous divisions. This is where the intense battle scenes of the movie take place and also where you get to see the true mayhem of war. And this is where the payoff really occurs. You become so entrenched with each of these characters that you feel a sense of loss when they lose something. And while Garfield shined throughout this entire movie, this is where his character shows that you don't need a weapon in your hand to show true courage.

Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but the man can direct a movie. His personal life has crumbled in the last decade or so and much, if not all of this, has been brought on by his own doing. I used to like him as a director and an actor. I no longer do. But that does not mean I'll stop watching his films. In this instance, I am able to separate him from his work. Some of his films are some of the best ever made. Braveheart was my all-time favorite movie for 10+ years and still remains in my overall top 10. The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto are also very ambitious films that were directed by him. Gibson is a man who is often able to work his deep religious beliefs with his, seemingly, insatiable appetite for anarchy. And it works for him. His movies are hits with critics and hits with audiences. He very well could have been blackballed by Hollywood (much like Woody Allen has been) and maybe he has been to a certain extent. I could see Hacksaw Ridge as being the best film not to get a nomination in any category when the nominations are announced.

If a war film that shows a considerable amount of blood and gore doesn't upset you and if you aren't currently boycotting Mel Gibson's films, I think Hacksaw Ridge is a must see. As of the time of this post, it is competing with Sully for my favorite movie of the year. I don't think either of these will end up in the top spot, but I'm not sure either will fall out of the top five for the year either. While Sully was one of the most perfectly made films you'll ever see, Hacksaw Ridge is much more ambitious and while leave you feeling far more emotional and invested by its conclusion than Sully will. While I go to the movies at odd times and thus the auditoriums are often far emptier than they might be, I did see Hacksaw Ridge in a semi-full theater and I honestly can't remember the last time the audience clapped when the movie had ended. There were a lot of people who felt the same way I did about it once it was over. And, again, a lot of credit goes to Gibson for telling an incredible story without veering away from the true story. I really, really liked this film.

Plot 10/10
Character Development 9/10 (you learn so much about so many of the different characters...this is hard to do...especially in certain genres like war)
Character Chemistry 9/10
Acting 9/10 (Garfield and Worthington were wonderful...Vaughn was great as well, but it's becoming harder and harder to watch a drama with Vaughn because you think of all of the comedies he has been in while you're watching the film...still it shouldn't take away from this performance.
Screenplay 9/10
Directing 10/10
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 10/10
Hook and Reel 10/10 (Garfield's character intrigues you from the very beginning and makes him someone you will root for until the very end)
Universal Relevance 10/10 (a story that I never knew about...how did I not know about this story?)


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