Monday, November 7, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge

"War is hell." Undoubtedly most war movies barely scrape at the surface of its savagery and futility, though Hollywood does its best to capture their version of the experience. Directed by Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge is the latest entry into this genre which unflinchingly delivers a story so unbelievable it must be true, making no concessions to the gentle constitutions of its viewers. The film does not scrimp in its gruesome, savage and gut-wrenching depictions of mangled bodies and much worse, instead opting through candid ferocity to help us better grasp the horror – the blood, guts and stench of battle – endured by our soldiers. Yet, here is the conundrum I find myself in while writing this review, for as much as it's a war movie, intense and violent and making no apologies for it, it is also – equally and unquestionably – a movie about faith.

From the official website: “Hacksaw Ridge is the extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWI, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

A riveting and powerful movie, Hacksaw Ridge is not for the faint of heart, for sure. It is bloody, gory, and heart-wrenching to say the least, but also AMAZING in its accomplished feat of highlighting in equal measure the vagaries and barbarity of war, as well as the strength and hope found in God and faith. Much like his epic The Passion of the Christ, Gibson has layered his film with violence AND spirituality. Viewers of all stripes (but especially people of faith) will be moved by Doss’ journey; beaten during boot camp by fellow soldiers who saw his reluctance to fight as an act of cowardice and mocked for his believes, he turns the other cheek, forgives their transgressions against him and with God’s grace and help (for the results are nothing short of a miracle) goes on to save countless lives. While war is a large part of this film, Gibson also beautifully captures moments of love and family. By starting the tale during Doss’ youth, Gibson lays the groundwork for viewers to better understand Doss’ conviction given life events which helped shape him as a man.

As for performances, Garfield does a wonderful job in conveying Doss’ faith journey and struggle for understanding, yet the actors which were a true revelation to me were Vince Vaughn and Hugo Weaving. Vaughn effortlessly delivered much needed moments of levity (to be expected), but also somber strength and emotion. As Desmond’s dad, Weaving (aka Agent Smith from The Matrix) brilliantly conveyed in every scowl and pain-filled grimace the grim, tortured soul of a man lost to the horrors of his own war past; whose drinking and violence is unleashed on his family not out of hate for them, but for himself. Honestly for me, every time Weaving came on the screen, there was a rawness – a bleeding heart laid bare before me quality to it – that was breathtaking. (Oh, you might not have seen the movie yet, but his performance during the dinner table scene when Hal informs them of his enlistment gave me a knot in my throat the size of a golf ball.)

Hacksaw Ridge is a gripping must-see film that shines a much-needed spotlight on a humble American hero whose life and actions serve to remind us that the task ahead of us is never as great as the power behind us when faced with faith. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)