Saturday, February 04, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

You just know a movie is so well put together when you see it.  It’s almost like a song, like the rhythm is right; you’re feeling no bumps.

Hacksaw Ridge is a movie that is beautifully put together, the best so far among the movies I have seen in this year’s list of Oscar nominees for best picture. So far I’ve seen Fences and Manchester by the Sea previously.  If the great Robert Downey Jr. who is the poster child of falling from grace and coming back again could not remove Mel Gibson from the blacklist - Robert was or is hoping Mel direct an Iron Man movie - then maybe Mel’s work can. From what I see in this movie, Mel has not lost a step since directing Apocalypto of 2006.

He also has not lost that trait, which in my opinion, may have gotten him trouble in the past decade: his religiosity. The movie is not just about a war hero but the devout Christian who made it. And he made it because he is a devout Christian, the others are just wrong. I say Hacksaw Ridge is beautifully made because I really hated its conceit yet still because of the smoothness of its flow, properly placed comic timing, and battle scenes, I finished watching it. 

And the movie is based on a true story so I concede the lead protagonist deserves some respect.

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is the first conscientious objector to get a Medal of Honor, the highest military award possible in the United States. A Seventh-day Adventist from Virginia he does not believe in guns, but like most of his generation going to war felt like an obligation especially because of Pearl Harbor.  So he joined thinking there was an understanding on weapons training, that for religious convictions he won’t train using a rifle.  And the icing on the cake is that he also points out Sabbath or Saturday is holy, therefore no work.

My irritation is nearly as big as Desmond’s commanding officer Captain Glover (Sam Worthington).  A recruit making demands is one thing; doing so in a time of war was too much. Desmond endured what would be a Code Red in another movie. He took it all never giving in or pointing fingers.  The issue reached as high as court martial.  Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) was able to save his son at this point because he shared a war with a now General – a band of brothers kind of bond.

It should be noted that this entire affair of Desmond pre-war was framed in a very religious sense.  The Christian is persecuted; almost it’s as if being a goal in of itself, like self-flagellation. Who cares about army standards at war time?

The story moved fast enough before I throw a fit like Glover – it was beautifully paced. I know Mel Gibson is preaching by now but he kept true to the craft.  After the court martial was an intimate moment between Desmond and Dorothy (Teresa Palmer).  Dorothy remained true in spite looking like she was stood up for her wedding so this ‘meeting’ was a perfect release of tension between the hostility before in the court martial to the hell that is to come in Okinawa.

And speaking of release of tension Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) is my favorite.  Just being there – with the help of Director’s timing of course – Vince had just enough seriousness and comedic aura to make the scene ok.  It’s hellish but somehow light and not Jar-Jar annoying. There’s misunderstanding between the men starting at training camp with Desmond being the focal point but it’s not down and dirty personal.

The battlefield that is Hacksaw Ridge looks cheap. It has none of the detail and wide shots in Saving Private Ryan’s Normandy Landing. There points it felt like a set.  Camera angles were so close to the soldiers looks like they were only attacking by groups of 10; never saw much of the land.  Yet despite what I assume was caused by budgetary constraints the battle was respectable and hellish when it needed to.  And besides the highlight of it all was Desmond who had rescued 75 (according to the movie’s epilogue) soldiers.

Going back to the movie’s conceit. I have no idea what military regulation was during that time but if I don’t remember any Eugene Roe ever brandishing a gun, so in that sense maybe it should have been a non-issue.  At any rate Desmond serving has legal ground otherwise there would be no movie.

Conscientious objectors generally avoid all military service as a whole. The army is ruthless, it has standards, but that’s what war is. Dorothy gave good advice just to learn the rifle; actually she said just to wave it.  Preparation is a virtue of a soldier is it not? Meet them halfway, she said. And what is the point of not killing when Desmond is party to it by just being present? He’s saving soldiers ready and willing to kill. 

And what of the final assault which happened only after waiting for Desmond praying and resulted in final victory over Hacksaw Ridge.  No credit goes to supply in favour of the Americans or lack thereof for the Japanese army. No credit goes to strategy. Is that to say that God wills it?    That everything was a righteous kill? 

There’s a low angled shot of Desmond on a stretcher after that final battle; light showing from a previously cloudy sky. Looks like Mel Gibson approves.

Religious disagreements aside Mel Gibson is a talent.  Movies have been boxed in too much on sequels and comics that Hacksaw Ridge, even if it goes against what I find right, is always a welcome.  I hope he's back for good.

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