Verdict: This movie is probably going to get an Oscar nominatIon that it probably doesn’t deserve. It’s not a bad movie necessarily, but unless you enjoy movies with heavy Christian parables and Andrew Garfield’s southern accent, you are better off waiting for it to hit HBO.
Synopsis: “The true story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during WWII on religious grounds. Doss was drafted and ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance but went on to earn respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion after he risked his life — without firing a shot — to save 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa.”
You gotta love Hugo weaving. I’m going to nominate him as one of the most overlooked actors in Hollywood. He’s been in so many amazing roles, but if I go walk up to someone on the street and say, ”Hey, Hugo weaving is amazing!” they’ll wonder who I’m talking about. And Hacksaw is no exception to his career. Weaving plays the role of an abusive father, veteran, and thematic foil to Andrew Garfield. And he does it with the same purity that we saw in V for Vendetta or Matrix. It’s so utterly convincing you wonder if he’s acting.
Not as convincing per se, but a delightful surprise, is Vince Vaughn as the classic “mean drill sergeant” character. It reminded me of David Schwimmer in Band of Brothers; I think these castings work because they are so out of left field from what you expect of those actors. Vaughn still taps into his comedic roots, but they are weaved into a more nuanced form of bullying, humor paired with a viscous ability to tear someone down psychologically, in the name of pushing the soldiers to be better.
The violence of this movie has been criticized, but it’s honestly not that bad. Kids probably shouldn’t be seeing it, but the violence is certainly no worse than Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Flags of Our Fathers or Letters from Iwo Jima. And what violence there is serves the film well (for the most part). You hear about the horrors of war from Weaving, while his children ignore him, but then they get to see the real thing. It’s visceral and largely not-self-indulgent or gratuitous like it would be in a Tarantino film. It feels very real, which is a nice balance to the heavy themes being built around it.
In direct contrast to Weaving is Andrew Garfield. Let me be clear: he is not bad in this role. The role itself is just bland. It reminded me of Forrest Gump, if that character’s naivety was taken very seriously, rather than satirically. His accent is laughable, adding a humorous component to his earnestness that was definitely not intended. The character is incredibly one dimensional, being a “pure protagonist”. He only has a few moments of nuance or weakness, to show us that this a person and not a caricature of Christ imagery.
And it’s largely that imagery that takes away from the film. There is nothing wrong with having a movie with Christian narratives. They are pretty common, and can be done well and in a way that is enjoyable no matter the audience’s theological leanings. Sometimes it’s subtle in a way that serves it well; think Lion King, and the great voice of Mufasa speaking to his only son from the heavens. Other times it’s done terribly; think Anakin, and the incredibly blatant “Immaculate Conception” parable of the midi-chlorians. This movie was largely the latter.
Strange acting and heavy-handed ideology aside, Hacksaw’s biggest problem is its boring first half. Most of the first half of the film is spent in a training camp, convincing you through played out tropes that the protagonist is morally superior. Beat up by bunkmates? Check. Verbally abused by officer? It was liking watching a rated-R Holes. I will say, since this is based on a real guy’s story, maybe this stuff did happen, and these tropes could all be based his story? I’m not sure, but after all of these tropes occurred and a drawn-out trial scene happened, I was about ready for a nap.
Remember when I said for the most part the violence in this movie is not gratuitous and actually serves the film? There’s one exception. There is a sequence in which the violence is suddenly dramatized, bathed in a golden filter, and done in slow motion. This sequence also happens to be when the tide of battle has turned on the Japanese. It is capped by a frankly ridiculous scene of a Japanese military man committing seppuku. At no other point in the film do you see the Japanese perspective or follow their characters, so to suddenly have this break in perspective, used to really drive the nail home that America won, is insulting. This entire movie is about the moral superiority of the literal interpretation of Christian vows of non-violence. To then include a scene glorifying violence, so long as it is against or self-inflicted by the Japanese, detracts from the overall quality of the movie.