February 20, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn

There have been so many WWII movies made that for one to stand out, it had better be exceptional. In this day and age, to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, it had better be a groundbreaking story.

This is a groundbreaking story.

The story of Desmond Doss, a religious contentious objector who enlists in the Army but refuses to carry a weapon, is an incredible story. Extraordinary. It's so unbelievable I can't help but wonder what the hell took so long to tell people about it.

But what makes the movie so interesting is also what makes it so ridiculous. The story is amazing on its own. Desmond Doss' journey through the Army and his experiences on the battlefield is the stuff of legends. It doesn't need to be Hollywood-ized. But alas, it is. The story, which could have stood firmly on its own merit, is saturated with cheesy moment after cheesy moment. The score swells with emotional music as action unfolds in slow-motion across the battlefield. He has a heart-to-heart with his rival-turned-friend late at night in a foxhole. And of course, his single-handed heroics in swatting away not one, but two grenades in quick succession (which of course, there is no record of ever actually happening). It's just so unfortunate.

The first half of the movie isn't all bad. It's a slow build, showing Desmond's upbringing, his character, and what leads him to enlist in the first place. It's slow and Andrew Garfield isn't quite charming enough for me to want to root for him to succeed (or even survive), but there's nothing terribly offensive or noteworthy about it.

But then he arrives at boot camp, where we are greeted by a shouting Vince Vaughn who isn't quite unlikeable enough to be screaming at the soldiers the way he does. Eventually, the troops step on the battlefield, where the movie suddenly becomes wall-to-wall bullets for the next 30+ minutes. So on one hand, it's a nice reminder that this is, in fact, a war movie; on the other, it's sort of a weird departure from the rest of the very mild movie. Because the war scenes are brutal. As all war scenes are, I suppose. But we're talking heads being chopped off, bodies being blown up, and rats feasting on spilled innards as soldiers step over them. I suppose they really wanted to highlight to violence of war to contrast with the fact that Private Doss refused to carry a weapon.

The whole movie is just bizarre. If it hadn't been a true story, I think most everyone in the theater would have walked out laughing at the theatrics of it.

Final word: People should probably just watch the documentary on Desmond Doss.

P.S. The movie poster cracks me up in that they refuse to just name Mel Gibson as the director. If his name is such a detriment, why have him direct at all? Everyone knows who he is, and not as "the director of Braveheart."

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