You may not believe me, but it is nearly impossible to make a war film that truly stands out. Movies like “Apocalypse Now,” “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “Full Metal Jacket” are rarities, because they stick out of the crowd in the war genre, filled with movies trying to be profound and sentimental when they’re all trying to say the same thing – War sucks.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is another example of this, a war movie that is clearly trying to stand out, but ends up falling into the same traps as hundreds of war flicks that came before it, following a another hero in war time who made selfless sacrifices for his fellow troop members, of whom we learn only basic information and cute little nicknames so there might be some impact when they die. We see dead bodies struuned around the battlefield and nameless faces killing other nameless people to imply they are fighting for nothing.
We’ve heard this story a million times, and “Hacksaw Ridge” does very little to distinguish itself from its brethren.
Based on a true story, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a devoted Christian who ends up being drafted into World War II. He leaves behind his angry father (Hugo Weaving) and his girlfiend (Teresa Palmer) whom he just proposed to. When Desmond is given a rifle, he rejects the opportunity and says that he’ll go onto the battlefield without a weapon and will be saving lives rather than destroying them, despite what his commanding officers order him to do.
The one thing that stands out in “Hacksaw Ridge” is Desmond’s father, Tom, and a tremendously subtle performance by Hugo Weaving. Tom served in World War I and saw everyone he ever cared about die before his eyes, and being powerless to stop their deaths. He constantly visits their graves and talks to them about how the world has changed, usually with a bottle of whiskey in his hand and on his breath. He berates his two sons about war and how it destroys everything it touches, including his own life. The mother admits that he was a good man before the war, and now all that’s left is angry shell that will take that anger out on others.
But the best scene comes when the whole family sits down for dinner, and Desmond’s brother comes in his new military uniform, silently admitting that he’s going to war. And we see Tom’s anger turn to sadness. He doesn’t yell at his son or whip him, he weeps. All those lessons he had tried to teach his kids about war feel meaningless and he suddenly feels like a failure. His son is doomed to the same fate as his friends.
That scene not only came as a surprise, but was also different enough to keep me interested in the rest of the film.
Unfortunately, “Hacksaw Ridge” doesn’t have many other scenes that stand out, other than ones that are gruesome and unforgiving (just like any other war film). Hugo Weaving comes back for one scene later in the film to defend Desmond which gives his character some great closure to show that he’s not powerless in this ever changing world.
Overall, “Hacksaw Ridge” is an average war movie. While it has a couple standout scenes, it follows the formula of nearly every war film that has come before it, in an attempt to show humanity in the face of destruction. The film does this well enough that it isn’t pretentious, but not so well that it is memorable. Hugo Weaving gives the most worthwhile performance and is the main reason to watch this film.
Final Grade: C