By Marc S. Sanders
“Please Lord. Help me get one more.”
Desmond Dawes rescued 75 American soldiers during the assault on Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, Japan following the United States’ entry into World War II, and he did it without ever lifting a weapon.
War pictures have become somewhat boring to me lately. The battle scenes all blend together. The main characters seem to be the same each time. They all have a different heritage (Polish, Jewish, Italian). There’s the soldier who is the bully. The one who’s brother died in battle so he enlisted. The platoon leader has to bark orders to such a degree that audience must hate him, only to love him later on when he makes the ultimate sacrifice. It’s become all the same.
Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge overcomes those tropes for most of the picture but at times it still suffers from that curse of sameness. It’s only when he returns to focus on his lead actor, Andrew Garfield, who plays Dawes, that we see something special. Dawes’ reasons for not lifting a weapon are vastly explored and they are convincingly justifiable when his domestic life is depicted under the tyranny of an abusive, alcoholic father suffering from his own demons of war. Hugo Weaving is Desmond’s father. Why isn’t he getting any accolades for his performance? He’s fantastic.
Garfield is very good in the role even if he really doesn’t have to shape a character arc for himself. His performance is all about maintaining his character’s convictions. He doesn’t change. Rather, the men he serves with do.
Teresa Palmer plays his wife, Dorothy, and she’s good as well. She’s not wasted in the script (like I found Michelle Williams in Manchester By The Sea or Rooney Mara to be in Lion.). I only wish Gibson showed one last scene between the characters before the film closed out.
Vince Vaughn was an issue for me, miscast as the platoon’s drill sergeant. He’s been pigeonholed in too many comedic roles I guess that he failed to convince me of his authority here. Maybe that’s my problem. I dunno.
Hacksaw Ridge is another very good picture from 2016, but it is weighted down by graphic battle scenes, all well played out, mind you, but all done before. It’s not until late in the film that Garfield steps up to show why Dawes was so special to this particular moment in history. That’s when the emotion of the film kicks in and the interest heightens itself.