Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ starts slow but escalates quickly

By Tanvi Verma

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Andrew Garfield in 'Hacksaw Ridge' (Mark Rogers/Cross Creek Pictures)

Andrew Garfield in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (Mark Rogers/Cross Creek Pictures)

The snooze-inducing first half of “Hacksaw Ridge” almost eclipses its eventual thrills.

Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a bumbling and naive Southern boy with a real affinity for the Bible and almost no other interesting qualities. That might sound unfair, but the first hour of this movie was painfully slow, so I really resented most of the characters for a while.

Growing up with an alcoholic war veteran (Hugo Weaving) as a father, it leaves the well-meaning Desmond totally opposed to violence. He specifically abides strictly by the sixth commandment of the Old Testament – that’s “Thou shalt not kill,” for all the Bible-illiterates like myself.

The  beginning of the movie is an irritatingly conventional old Southern love story. Desmond falls in love with a nurse and watches his brother enlist in the Army to fight in World War II. This inspires patriotism in Desmond, who also decides to enlist, much to  his father’s dismay.

While it’s rare to see Hollywood break the trend of testosterone-soaked war movies, the refreshing component here is the contrast between Desmond and the men around him. It’s immediately clear Desmond has the physical qualifications to be a great soldier. He demonstrates a natural talent for the service, up until when he is asked to train with a rifle.

Desmond, who initially enlisted under the impression he’d be training as a medic, refuses to touch a weapon and, through a boring sequence, is eventually allowed to participate in the Army as a conscientious objector. This form of non-violence and Garfield’s soft-spoken portrayal of Desmond breaks up the machismo that inundates the film before the men ship off to war.

Once the movie shifts to Okinawa, its slow beginning feels justified. Gibson masters the calm before the storm, the quiet mundanity that precedes a violent upheaval. And that’s the only way I can characterize the battle scenes of this movie: a full-blown, violent contrast to the slow narrative the audience was initially presented with.

Simon Duggan’s cinematography captures the war from every angle imaginable. Some aspects of the camerawork during these scenes are almost distractingly impressive. That said, it’s easy to lose track of the protagonist amid the chaotic, crowded battle scenes. At some point, I was just watching limbs getting blown off of people with no idea about where Andrew Garfield was.

This bloodshed isn’t entirely senseless. “Hacksaw Ridge” has moments when it looks like it’s going to turn into a stereotypical war movie, but Garfield always presents a contrast to those narrative clichés. Gibson uses blood and violence to show what people sacrifice for their countries.

While Desmond certainly faces a great deal of accusations of cowardice for never picking up a gun, Gibson is sure to highlight that the injury he sustains and the blood he loses is equal to any other man’s sacrifice on the battlefield. He emphasizes this deliberately. Gibson shows that this man’s sacrifice to his country, though non-violent, is still deeply motivated by patriotism and brotherhood and comes from a place of great bravery.

Tanvi Verma can be reached at [email protected].

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