Every war movie released since 1998 has been dubbed “the best war film since Saving Private Ryan.”
“Hacksaw Ridge” was no different. The hype surrounding this movie was intense. The 10-minute ovation at the premiere, the return of Mel Gibson, there was no shortage of expectation.
For that reason I was a little apprehensive to go see it. I assumed I’d be let down no matter what, since everyone I knew was telling me how great it was.
My biggest concern going into the movie was the thought that the story might rely too heavily on Doss being a CO. That alone is not a unique enough story. Hundreds of COs served both off an on the frontline in WWII.
It did let me down, but not near as much as I thought it would and that’s a win in my book.
I very much liked the first half of the movie. The love story is great and I felt really connected to Doss’ struggle. He was played so kind and soft spoken you couldn’t help but want him to win.
The first real cringe moment was his introduction to basic training. His platoon mates were each a walking cliché of WWII stereotypes. The good-looking “Hollywood,” the short little quedo, the asshole who for some reason always becomes the B.A.R. gunner.
Nothing that I didn’t expect though, so I put the cheesiness out of my mind and focused on the brilliance of Vince Vaughn as the grizzled NCO. His christening of the Pollack as “chief” was one of the funnier moments of any WWII movie I’ve ever seen.
I was anxious to get to the combat scenes. I’m not a movie critic in the faintest sense, but I do love reviewing authenticity and everything was so straightforward in the training scenes there wasn’t much to critique.
Yet when they actually jumped from stateside to overseas it left me confused. I realized there had been no timeline the entire movie, which left me with tons of questions. We jumped from an ambiguous time somewhere after Pearl Harbor to May 1945, three months before the war’s end. What happened in-between? Did he volunteer toward the end of the war or did his unit just spend 3 years getting ready to invade Okinawa? Were the C.O. and Vaughn veterans who had returned from overseas to train a new unit or was this their first action as well?
I had just barely recovered from this whirlwind when the first combat scene finally debuted, and punched me square in the jaw.
I saw the movie by myself, something I generally enjoying doing. But when I watched them try and take Hacksaw for the first time I wished someone I knew had been sitting next to me. It was horrific on a level I’d never seen before. I good friend of mine told me before I went to see it that it made ‘Private Ryan’ look like a kids movie. He was right. It was almost too much, visually. I couldn’t see what was happening in the hurricane of limbs and bayonets and mortar explosions. It really left me wondering if the battle had really been that bad. If there was that much hand to hand combat. I still don’t know, information on the actual battle has been hard to come by.
It was all very shocking and overwhelming. The only thing that pulled me out of the intensity was the asshole B.A.R. gunner picking up half a dead body and using it as his Captain America shield while he charged a group of japs. Why, Mel Gibson, why??
I shook my head at that, tried to forget about it and waded through the rest of the film. All in all I loved it. Minor authenticity mistakes here and there, (helmet liners, bayonet lugs and postwar sights) but nothing too egregious and nothing that took away from the power of the story.
That’s what really made this film worth watching. The pure power of Desmond Doss’ story. Is it the best war film since “Saving Private Ryan?”
But a worthy effort by all involved and a wholly amazing story that needed to be told.