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Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Lionsgate
4K UHD Released: 2/21/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/13/2017

If you look at the wide range of movies, you will find patterns and trends. While this isn't surprising, what is interesting is how audiences react to these things. Some movies appear to be carbon-copies of movies which came before them, and yet they become hits. Why would someone want to watch something which they've already seen? (I know that the answer is comfort and familiarity, but work with me here.) On the flipside, there can be movies which don't garner enough attention because they deal with a subject which has been done repeatedly in the past. For example, how many movies about World War II have been made? A billion? Can there really be any new stories to tell? I would like to think that as movie lovers and filmgoers that we can be open-minded, which is why Hacksaw Ridge definitely deserves a look.

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was born and raised in the rural mountains of Virginia, where he lived with his parents, Tom and Bertha (Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths) and his brother, Hal. Desmond and Hal would fight, as siblings do, and Tom could be tyrannical, but, otherwise, Desmond's strict religious upbringing was not all that unusual. When Desmond accompanies an accident victim to the hospital, he meets young nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) and is immediately smitten, not only by her, but by an interest in medicine. He begins to court Dorothy, who brings him medical textbooks, but their bliss is cut short when Desmond decides to enlist in the Army to fight in World War II. He goes to Fort Jackson for basic training and immediately runs into a problem -- due to his pacifist beliefs, Desmond refuses to touch a gun. He only wants to help others by being a medic. This enrages his superiors and alienates him from his peers, but Desmond refuses to acquiesce. Soon, everyone will learn that you don't have to carry a gun to be a hero.

When it comes to biopics, they typically fall into three categories: A) I was already familiar with that story; B) I can't believe that I'd never heard that story; and C) I can't believe that they thought that anyone would be interested in that story. Hacksaw Ridge falls squarely into that second slot. The movie portrays the true story of a man who man who not only refused to compromise his principals, but also performed acts of bravery which defied all logic. Again, Doss volunteered to joined the military and he had opportunities to quit (and faced jail time if he didn't), but he persevered, as he not only wanted to be true to himself, but he wanted to serve his country and mankind as well. I will freely admit that I'm not an expert on World War II, but one has to wonder why we haven't heard Doss' story before. Not only does it serve as a shining example of altruism, but also for standing up for one's beliefs.

OK, Desmond Doss' story is inspirational, but that doesn't guarantee that it will make a good movie. Fortunately, Oscar-winning Director Mel Gibson is at the helm here. Now, I realize that Gibson's name has become synonymous with controversy, but Hacksaw Ridge proves that he is still a very talented director. He allows the story to unfold at a very natural pace, as we got to know Desmond, his family, and Dorothy. Therefore, when the tension starts in the second act, we actually feel something for these characters. The second half of the film focuses on the days in which American forces attempted to take a cliff on Okinawa called "Hacksaw Ridge". Now, as noted above, there have been many movies about World War II, and I think that most of us simply take war action scenes for granted. But, Hacksaw Ridge contains some of the most detailed and complicated battle sequences which I've ever seen. The thought "that couldn't have been easy to film" kept going through my head, as we are treated to multiple angles of gunfights and explosions which truly place us in the middle of the action. Gibson could have easily given us very basic fight scenes, but it's clear that a lot of work and dedication went into these moments.

The movie also gets a huge boost from its cast. I've never been a fan of Andrew Garfield (he is not my Peter Parker), but he's very good here. He gangly stature and goofy looks help to emphasize why those around Doss would have doubted him. And when it's time to emote, Garfield handles things well. Vince Vaughn is surprisingly good as the tough drill sergeant and Sam Worthington (where has he been?) is notable as the Army superior who wants to help Doss. But, the best performance here comes from Weaving, who sells his performance as a man whose haunted past keeps him from living in the present.

Again, I know that viewers will want to avoid Hacksaw Ridge either because of Gibson's involvement or because it looks like just another World War II movie. However, the film tells the story of an American hero which should be better known and it really draws us into the perils of battle. Great acting and action sequences make the film engrossing and the footage of the real Doss at the finale brings everything to an emotional close.

Hacksaw Ridge features a ridiculous amount of Australian actors on 4K UHD courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries a 2160p HD transfer. The image is notably sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The daytime scenes are crystal clear, with the sky being nearly blinding. The nighttimes scenes don't fare quite as well, as they come across as notably dark at times. The colors look good, most notably the greens. The depth is notable and the level of detail looks great. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos (7.1) audio track which delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences bring us palpable subwoofer effects and the bullets whizzing by in the surround sound channels places us in the center of the battle. We also get plenty of stereo effects which highlight sounds coming from off-screen. The effects are very detailed and individual sounds can be detected.

The Hacksaw Ridge 4K UHD contains only a small set of extra features. "The Soul of War: Making Hacksaw Ridge" (70 minutes) is a very detailed look at the creation of the film. We get interviews with the principal cast and creative team, as well as Desmond Doss Jr., who shares his thoughts on his father's tale. The speakers talk about the genesis of the production and the true story was translated to the screen. The piece then explores the casting process and the actors involved. From there, we get an in-depth look at the actual production and the shooting of the battle scenes. "Veterans Day Greeting with Mel Gibson" (1 minute) allows the director to thank soldiers. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes. The bulk of these are new, but don't contain any new characters or subplots. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long