Best of 2016 Review: Hacksaw Ridge

From acclaimed director Mel Gibson, who has spawned massive epics like Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ in his slim but successful directing career, comes Hacksaw Ridge, a timely, courageous, and relentless masterpiece. Breathing a similar intensity and emotion into the war film genre as Saving Private Ryan, while also crafting a plethora of enjoyable yet somewhat stereotypical characters, Hacksaw Ridge manifested into something beyond simply a biographical tale of a solider, soon becoming a testament of faith and belief at a time when those ideals were tested by hatred and violence. Boasted by a powerful performance in Andrew Garfield's soft-hearted Southerner, and teeming with ferocity in its directing, Hacksaw Ridge is one 2016 film you can't miss.

With the Second World War booming into prominence as young men from across the United States armed themselves to take on the Japanese, deep Virginia-native Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) soon finds himself motivated to join the war. Against his father's (Hugo Weaving) wishes to keep him out of the violence and brutality of war, Doss enlists as a combat medic. Wishing to hold strong to his faith to God, Doss commits himself as a conscientious objector, that is, promising never to carry a weapon in any circumstance. Soon aligned against his infantry and commanders because of his beliefs, Doss is thrown into a far more troubling war, as he battles not only his faith, but also his desire to live up to his father.

As with many film genres these days, I'm always on the fence when it comes to war movies. While part of me is inherently drawn to the visceral and emotional nature of what the genre can do in film, another part of me contemplates if there's even any character in the violence unfolding on the screen. With Mel Gibson's latest passion project, Hacksaw Ridge, I found not only a treasure trove of captivating scenes of brutality, but also a fantastic amount of character at its core. With actor Andrew Garfield delivering his best performance since The Social Network, and the film's supporting cast breathing both humor and compassion into their roles, Hacksaw Ridge blended the grisly violence that Gibson is known for in his work with effective characters that you actually care about.

While Garfield's soft-spoken soldier may have drawn me to the film to some degree -- the notion of the former Spider-Man actor jumping into a war flick sounding somewhat ambitious -- the real bait for me, of course, was the action. Yes, while the story of Desmond Doss was new to me and looked to be a compelling look at faith and bravery, there's no doubt that the film's dynamic filmmaking was greatly amplified by its depiction of war. With director Mel Gibson having his fair share of visually-captivating stories put to screen, from 1995's Scottish war epic Braveheart to 2006's historical thriller Apocalypto, Hacksaw Ridge offered Gibson with yet another opportunity to flesh out his story using a slew of breath-taking spectacle. While his rather gory depiction of war might not be for the faint-of-heart, the film's riveting storytelling through visceral scenes of violence worked only to elevate the film and its incredible true story.

With that true story, telling of a courageous young soldier who managed to rescue over 70 men during the Battle of Okinawa without touching a single weapon, came of course a plethora of fascinating real-life characters. With Andrew Garfield leading the cast as the heroic pacifist Desmond Doss, infusing an cheery Southern personality with a hardened and emotional complexity, the supporting cast also delivered a number of memorable performances. From Hugo Weaving's intense portrayal of Doss' distraught father to Vince Vaughn's hilarious and hard-boiled sergeant, the cast alongside Garfield worked elegantly to feed into both his character's motivations and his struggles.

Overall, while Hacksaw Ridge may be radically different in genre than Moonlight and La La Land, it does retain a fairly similar tone and complexity to those other award-winning films of 2016, as it presented audiences with a profound story of humanity and compassion. Fueled by its religious and spiritual core, and amplified by its phenomenal cast and dynamic action set pieces, Hacksaw Ridge presented a harrowing war film that has successfully remained imbedded in my brain from the night I first saw it.

I gave Hacksaw Ridge a 7 out of 10 for its masterful and unhinged directing by Mel Gibson, its captivating story teeming with violence and harmony, and its lead performance by Andrew Garfield, an actor I'm beginning to fully appreciate as a serious actor. I might have to go see Silence now, right after I rewatch The Social Network.   

While I might still be catching up on all the films I missed last year, stay tuned soon for more film reviews as we move into the Spring movie season! Along with reviews for Logan, A Cure for Wellness, and others, check back here for my breakdown of some of the biggest films set to release this Spring!

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