I watched “Hacksaw Ridge” the other night on DVD (which is how I watch most movies these days). It was a well-made film, as are all Mel Gibson films. Yes there is a BUT coming, and that BUT deals with all the tedious stuff that has to happen to get to the stuff you are really interested in.
In the case of “Hacksaw” we know going in that this is a story of a conscientious objector exhibiting great heroism on the battlefield in WWII. So the stuff that’s interesting is the heroic stuff. The stuff that isn’t quite so interesting is…everything else. So the film has a built-in problem, one that many films have: how do you convey the hardship a hero experiences that provides context to their heroic triumph?
Part of the problem is that in the year 2017 audiences have experienced virtually every story that can possibly be told. So already filmmakers are struggling to convey something new. Mostly that battle has been forfeited and the energy directed to telling tried-and-true stories in new ways. “Hacksaw” is a tried-and-true story. Sympathetic draftee, unwilling to touch a rifle, is tormented by fellow soldiers. On the battlefield, they are all shamed by his unbelievable heroism. This sort of tale goes back to “Sergeant York.”
Gibson has never been shy about depicting “torment” on the screen. He wallows in torment. And the screen-time devoted to the hero’s family life and experiences in basic training are well-meaning, but they are also tedious. We’ve seen this all before. We’ve seen the hard-ass Sergeant before. We’ve seen late-night beatings before. We’ve seen the obstacle course before. We’ve seen the whirlwind courtship of a nurse before (in “Pearl Harbor” for one). We’ve even seen court-martial scenes before.
These scenes are, I’m sure, part of this true-life character’s story. They give context to his eventual triumph. BUT…they are tedious. And someone should have recognized that as the script was developed.