War and peace? Both get the bombastic treatment in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’

Garfield, left, trains for unarmed combat.
Photo: Summit Entertainment

Two stars

Hacksaw Ridge Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn. Directed by Mel Gibson. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.

For a movie about a famous pacifist, Hacksaw Ridge is remarkably gruesome, although it takes a while to build to its punishing brutality. After a brief opening glimpse at Private Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) wounded on the battlefield, the movie shifts back to the years leading up to World War II, as Doss grows up in rural Virginia. For the first hour or so, Ridge is an ultra-corny Hallmark movie, full of clichés in Doss’ Nicholas Sparks-ian romance with a local nurse (Teresa Palmer), his troubled relationship with his alcoholic dad (Hugo Weaving) and his eventual enlistment in the Army, where he encounters a platoon full of stereotypes (including a drill sergeant played by a miscast Vince Vaughn). A dedicated Seventh-day Adventist, Doss refuses to even touch a firearm, but he’s determined to serve his country as a combat medic, even if his commanding officers do everything they can to get him to quit.

Will those doubters all be proven wrong, eventually coming to respect and admire Doss? Mel Gibson, directing his first film since 2006’s Apocalypto, augments the predictable writing with almost perversely intense battle scenes once Doss and his battalion arrive at Okinawa. The excessive gore highlights just how dangerous a situation Doss put himself in without a weapon to use in his defense, but it’s at odds with a movie about an incredibly compassionate and self-sacrificing man, and it eventually it becomes numbing.

Garfield plays Doss as an insipid do-gooder with a fake-sounding aw-shucks accent, and the rest of the acting isn’t much better. The bombastic score oversells every moment just in case the hokey dialogue isn’t obvious enough. Gibson lays on the sentiment and the blood and guts in equal measure, and both drown out the genuine heroism of the true story.

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