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Silver Screen Streak List #25: 02. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Silver Screen Streak List #25: 02. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Directed by Mel Gibson
Written by dorrk
11 May 2024

I sometimes talk trash about genres in which the same ideas are recycled endlessly with little variation, so I'm going to give Hacksaw Ridge (2014) a little credit: Even though most Hollywood war movies approach the subject from an emotion-fed antiwar point-of-view, rarely is an emotion-fed antiwar character given as much time to explicitly demonstrate their case as is Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) in Hacksaw Ridge. The potential for interesting challenges to war movie orthodoxies — as well as pacifism — is ripe. Instead, director Mel Gibson doubles down on every war movie cliche in the most cartoonish, ham-handed manner, with the added deficit of making us look at Garfield's simpering, gawping Muppety face for more than two hours. This movie is excruciating. Ironically, the gruesome violence that Gibson stuffs into the final act works as a blissful reprieve from the cruel onslaught of soggy sentiment that leads up to it.

Within the first five minutes, Gibson whiplashes from an overstuffed sense of wonder at a boyhood-spent-exploring-idyllic-nature to the grim melodrama of domestic violence. There is no room for moderation in Hacksaw Ridge; true to his bipolar personality, Gibson goes overboard in every moment and commits with vigor to a script so fucking awful the actors should sue the screenwriters and the audience should sue the actors. I would like to have erupted in laughter when, early on, young Desmond, with no context, clocks his older brother with a cinderblock — but I was already so besieged by Gibson's needy everythingness that I couldn't even enjoy the blunt slapstick of child-on-child attempted murder.

I don't categorically dislike Gibson as a director (and I generally like him quite a bit as an actor). Both Braveheart (1995) and Apocalypto (2006) are movies that I enjoyed once but have no desire to re-watch. I had no desire to watch even once either Hacksaw Ridge or The Passion of the Christ (2004), as they seemed like subjects that might not be well-served by Gibson's voracious appetite for his voracious appetite. On the other hand, I've hated Andrew Garfield for most of his career — there's something about his face and its clueless sense of possibilities that enrages me — until he confounded me with an excellent performance in one of my favorite movies of the last decade, Under the Silver Lake (2018). Maybe I only like him when he plays a worthless loser who I am not supposed to like? Hacksaw Ridge confirmed for me that the one Garfield mode I certainly can't abide is happy, mouth agape , and eyes glistening with joyful tears. He is insufferable in this movie from his first minute to his last. This is not meant as a slight to the real Desmond Doss, who sounds like a remarkable human being. "Perfect" movie characters are, however, unwatchable without some edge or other conflicting human characteristics, and Mel Gibson's emotion-crack-boosted version of Garfield's feeliness is a veritable Schmoo of shapeless, goopy sentiment that would likely have mortified the real Doss.

It isn't fair to single out Garfield. None of the actors have a chance, working with the worst writing since The Day the Clown Cried (1972). Vince Vaughn is tasked with playing a gruff drill sergeant but is only given lines like, "We're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy." By the end of the movie, Vaughn is forced into the awkward position of sincerely reprising a version of his Anchorman (2004) character Wes Mantooth, professing his profound respect for a nemesis. Cringe doesn't begin to cover it. Teresa Palmer does what she can, but is hamstrung with a character who must pretend to fall in love with a nauseating rube. The actors playing Doss' fellow soldiers feel like rejects from The Max Fischer Players' high school production of "Heaven & Hell." It's frankly shocking that a prestige Hollywood production from a supposedly canceled celebrity escaped the suits with so little scrutiny — and received major award nominations!

I suppose there is an argument to be made that the combat scenes in Hacksaw Ridge have cinematic merit. They are fun as a spectacle, but they rarely make temporal sense — how many times do we see Doss' unit completely overrun by a swarm of Japanese soldiers and still find somewhere to retreat? — and, like everything else, way overboard. Egregiously overboard. Flaming-bodies-flying-through-the-air overboard. Montage-of-an-unknown-Japanese-officer-committing-seppuku overboard. One can only assume that Gibson had a drunken manic episode in the editing room and demanded that no footage be left unused.

While Hacksaw Ridge has been praised for its accuracy, the script's effort to compress events is distractingly obvious and jarring throughout the final act, adding one more layer of absurdity to this disaster. I should also give Hacksaw Ridge credit for avoiding two horrible tropes that it seems to telegraph: No, Doss' pocket-sized Bible is never shown stopping a bullet; and, despite a lingering scene that seems to beg for it, Doss' fellow soldiers do not slow-clap as he is stretchered away. For a movie this awful to somehow avoid such iconic monuments of crap is almost disappointing, like bad-movie-blueballs. I can't decide if these oversights — or, possibly, restraint? — are minuscule positives or a dereliction of duty that warrants an even more dishonorable discharge.

Silver Screen Streak List #25: 02. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

SILVER SCREEN STREAK: AACTA 'Best Film' Winners

Hacksaw Ridge (2016), Ranked

Josh Haysom's list, AACTA 'Best Film' Winners, crashes and burns on Hacksaw Ridge (2016) — its meager Flickchart rank of #6057 (2.57%) makes it the lowest ranking movie of this entire Silver Screen Streak movie challenge, out of the 94 movies watched to-date. Josh's list exits on its second movie with no FREE PASSES earned for the Second Round.

Stay tuned for a preview of the final list, as the First Round of The Silver Screen Streak movie challenge finally nears its end: Flickcharter Patrick Gray has assigned me Flickchart's Top-Ranked Psychological Thrillers (that I haven't seen).