Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson's latest directorial effort in nearly a decade. It's being touted by some critics as his "comeback film" as it offers plenty of Hollywood violence as well as family fun. It's a movie that it is so hypocritical in it's message, that it's hard to say if it really has one at all. It's a strange film. One that bounces from religious Hallmark movie levels of corny, to fairly well down WWII action set pieces. It's a strange mix. And even in the action set pieces, there are issues with the sappy script bleeding over. No one in this film curses, yet every soldier refers to the Japanese as "The Japs." Sure, you can argue this is to add some realism to the film, but surely soldiers facing unbeatable odds in WWII wouldn't just say "aw shucks" when they're friends' arms are being blown off. The choice in leaving out foul language is an obvious pander to the family-friendly/religious audience this film is trying to market. This only makes it strange that all the soldiers use the slur "Japs" but they won't say "fuck" or "shit" or any other language a real person in WWII would say. It's as if Gibson wants to dehumanize the Japanese in the film while simultaneously not humanizing the American characters. The characters are one of the many problems with Hacksaw. No one in the film grows. The main character, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), is a god fearing pacifist who enlists to "serve" but refuses to carry a weapon. The real life story of Desmond Doss is very interesting, (it's disappointing that they couldn't do more with the story) but the character in the movie is never presented as anything other than a saint with unwavering values. Not once does he question his reasoning for joining the fight (despite having a beautiful fiance back home, family, etc.), feel any kind of doubt, or have any growth or struggles that would add to the tension of the story. The Desmond character is perfect from the beginning of the film to the end of it, which gives us very little reason to feel invested in his journey.
There's also some visuals problem with the film that really bothered me as they took me out of the movie. There's nothing worse than seeing the strings of the spaceship on screen to ruin your immersion in a good sci-fi flick, the same goes here. The god-awful CGI battleships that fire on the Japanese looks like something out of a modern Saturday morning cartoon. These scenes could have been completely cut and nothing would have been lost, but here they remain to remind the audience that they're watching a movie where the director only cares if it looks believable when it's the middle of a battle with human beings. There's also quite a few scenes where the set and the way that it's shot resemble a sitcom, or a film shot on a sound stage in the 1930s, rather than a big budget film shot in the year 2016. Some of this has to do with the way Gibson films his scenes, but it also just looks like Gibson didn't really care how these sets looked. It's as if he sank the majority of the film's resources into the battle sequences, and said to hell with how the rest of the film turned out.
There's also some strange casting choices, as everyone is either Australian or British. The one American actor of note being Vince Vaughn. He plays a hard ass drill sergeant, which works about as well as it sounds.
Overall, Hacksaw Ridge is a deeply flawed movie with some working parts, but none of it is ever strong enough to justify the ticket price at the door.