Hacksaw Ridge Review
The announcement of the Hacksaw Ridge project raised a certain scepticism, especially taking into account that it was originally attached to Randall Wallace, director of the average We Were Soldiers. Furthermore, it was quite surprising, and to some extent concerning, to see Mel Gibson (Braveheart), a director famous for the violence of his movies, make his comeback with a movie like Hacksaw Ridge. Especially taking into account that Gibson abandoned projects with great potential (for instance, a movie about Vikings starring Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), or another one about the Maccabees written by Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct) to concentrate on this one. Therefore it could have seemed that the director of Apocalypto had lost his way…
Hacksaw Ridge tells the extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, Silence), a conscientious objector refusing to carry a weapon during the battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
On the contrary, one could actually be tempted to say, when seeing how Gibson iconises weapons and the courage of soldiers. The paradox is that the movie is also a story of faith, heroism, and sacrifice filmed from the point of view of a man looking at Heaven, a man about whom it is difficult to say if he is completely crazy of immensely courageous (there is practically no doubt Gibson saw a little bit of himself in this man close to God and rejected by his peers because of his profound convictions).
The paradoxical nature of Hacksaw Ridge also express itself when put in parallel with the current state of cinema, dominated by superhero movies. Gibson, faithful to his habit, hasn’t hidden what he thinks of this recent trend (he qualified Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice as a ‘piece of shit’), but his latest movie nonetheless shares some similarities with the genre. From Desmond’s Smallville-like youth to the discovery of the “super power” the Bible gives him, his unshaken faith, and through his costume (uniform), testing (the training camp) and the importance of the paternal figure (Hugo Weaving, Captain America: The First Avenger), all the codes of the genre are respected, even to the point of casting one of the recent incarnations of one of the most famous superheroes as the lead. However, Gibson’s movie is much closer, in that sense, to the matrix of superhero movies itself: Superman. Similarly to Richard Donner (with whom Gibson worked five times as an actor) who referenced directors like John Ford (The Searchers) in his influential movie, Gibson also draws on classic Hollywood cinema to tell the genesis of Doss’ story.
And he doesn’t stop there; when the action moves to the battlefield, Hacksaw Ridge resurrects the glorious tradition of the war realism movies like Objective, Burma!, Merrill's Marauders and The Big Red One but the illustrious shadow of Raoul Walsh and Samuel Fuller is not the only one to hover above the movie. If the visual magnitude of the battle scenes and the relationship between the soldiers reminds instantly John Woo’s highly underrated Windtalkers, the violence of the combat scenes is such that it makes Hacksaw Ridge feel closer to Starship Troopers or even Italian B-movies, with skulls exploding and splattering blood on the screen, explosions cutting soldiers in half or flamethrowers calcinating soldiers alive. Hacksaw Ridge might be the goriest war movie ever made. One could judge the method complacent but the war has rarely been shown with such a realistic and rawness concern.
Finally, Hacksaw Ridge remains a Christian biopic who puts the spotlight on a Christ-like hero evolving in a Hell, chosen by God, at least that’s what Desmond thinks. As usual the director of The Passion of the Christ has been accused of making a too religious film, but this criticism is as stupid as it is easy to refute, as the movie only relates the true facts as lived by one of the members of the Church of the Seventh Day Adventists (known to be the most tolerant and moderate of the Protestant congregations), whose acts have been entirely dictated by his faith. That it is Christian or not doesn’t have a big importance, the idea being that religion can push people to do good rather than kill each other.
Hacksaw Ridge is released on blu-ray disc on 22nd May by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
Hacksaw Ridge is presented in a gorgeous 1080p transfer respecting the original 2.39:1 ratio of the movie. The level of detail is quite amazing and allows to viscerally feel every scene in the movie. The colours look extremely natural and the night sequences, although very dark, are well rendered. I didn’t notice any issue with the image.
On the sound side, the Blu-ray disc features three audio tracks: Dolby Atmos, 5.1 DTS HD-MA and Audio description. The first one is obviously the most impressive, especially during the battle sequences, during which you can often feel you are in the middle of the chaos, but the second one is also splendid. Needless to say none of the tracks suffer from defects. The disc also features optional English hard of-of-hearing subtitles.
There are four extras on the disc:
The Soul of War: Making Hacksaw Ridge (70min, no subtitles)
This is an excellent making-of, presented in HD, featuring interviews from all the main cast and crew and Doss’ son. It focusses mainly on Desmond Doss (his story, the man he was, etc.), the documentary that prompted the making of the movie, the over-the-top aspects of the battle sequences, the pivotal relationship between Desmond and his father, the reality, and associated violence of the movie, Mel Gibson, the love story, the shoot in Australia and the stunts.
Veterans Day Greeting with Mel Gibson (1 min, no subtitles)
This is just a quick intro of the movie, in HD, by Mel Gibson with images of the movie.
A Conflict of Faith (10 min, no subtitles)
This is an extension of the making-of focussing on war and faith. I don’t really know why it was not included in the making-of, except to make it look like another extra…
Deleted scenes (4 min, no subtitles): This is a collection of six deleted scenes, presented in HD, with various interest.