Andrew Garfield takes on an inspiring true story in Mel Gibson’s courageous World War II biopic.
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths
Run Time: 131 minutes
With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.
Hacksaw Ridge sees the story of combat medic Desmond Doss, (Andrew Garfield) who became the first, and remains one of only three, conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honour despite never baring arms.
Growing up in a religious household with a troubled World War I veteran father, (Hugo Weaving) a young Desmond almost kills his younger brother Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic). This event reinforced his belief in the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’. A commandment Doss refuses to break, even for war.
After the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour, Doss gets the motivation to enlist with the intention of serving as a medic but before he leaves for Fort Jackson he proposes to nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer).
Arriving at Fort Jackson, Doss is placed under the command of Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn). Despite excelling physically his refusal to bare arms puts him under fire and called a coward from his fellow soldiers. What follows is many attempts to get Doss to quit or be discharged from both the soldiers and Sergeant Howell and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington).
Eventually, Doss‘ unit is dispatched and signed to the 77th Infantry Division then being sent to relieve the 96th Infantry, which was assigned to ascend and secure the Maeda Escarpment (“Hacksaw Ridge”). The Americans get a good start forcing the Japanese back. However, when morning comes the Japanese launch a huge counterattack forcing the Americans off the ridge, killing and injuring a multitude of men. Despite being ordered off the ridge, Doss hears the cries of the wounded and dying soldiers and chooses to stay behind.
Running back into the bloodbath, Doss sets out to find the injured soldiers and send them back down the cliff’s edge by rope, much to the surprise of the rest of the unit on the ground. When morning comes again Doss finally descends the cliff with Howell under enemy fire.
The film ends by switching to real-life photos and archive footage of Doss receiving his medal after saving 75 men at Hacksaw Ridge.
Directed by Mel Gibson, the latest war film takes a slightly different approach to many predecessors by having it led by a mans faith rather than blood lust or romance. It shows the war both honestly and brutally in almost two perspectives. You see the youth, in both Desmond and Hal along with the other soldiers as they each show their own desires to go to war whether that be to fight and kill or aid and service. It shows their quick decisions to enlist some just because their friends are too which is a common factor amongst these films.
But, what Hacksaw Ridge also subtly does is show the side of the ageing, troubled veteran in Tom Doss. Hugo Weaving’s effective, albeit short, onscreen time shows the heartbreaking and gut-wrenching toll war can take. It is clearly shown that he was once a young man too that, just like his sons, rushed to enlist along with his friends in WWI. The heartbreaking part being, he was the only one to come home alive. Now, Weaving’s character could just be placed in the abusive father category if it wasn’t for the line said by Tom’s wife and Desmond’s mother Bertha Doss (Rachel Griffiths); “I’d wished you’d known him before”.
It has to be said that every member of this cast gave unbelievable performances. Throughout the film Doss is repeatedly challenged but Garfield gives such a believable and sincere performance as the Seventh Day Adventist. He comes across vulnerable yet determined and passionate in his consistent referrals to follow the Lord’s commandments. Doss is in the underdog role as soon as he sets foot in Fort Jackson but Garfield pulls and charms you onto his side with both his constant faith and hopeless inability to talk to women. It is a performance I’m sure the real Desmond Doss would have been proud to see (he died in 2006 aged 97).
Vince Vaughn gives one of his best performances in a while as the tough yet witty Sergeant. A role I, personally, never would have imagined seeing Vaughn in. Sam Worthington also offers a solid performance as the hard but fair-minded Captain. Luke Bracey offers some scene stealing moments as soldier Smitty Ryker.
I am not a religious person so I was slightly concerned on how religiously heavy the overall film would be. The last think you want to do is watch a film that tries to push a religion or faith onto you but the screenplay, written by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight, is passionate yet not forced. You are aware of Doss‘ beliefs but those beliefs never try to tarnish or bash those of any other.
Hacksaw Ridge is an undoubtedly well shot film. The obvious bloody violence of battle sequences comes as no surprise. The film seemingly takes an old-school war film approach to the story yet a new-school approach to action and explicit violence that moulds rather well. I found the lighting well-balanced even in the night scenes. Often in scenes filmed at night you can’t see a damn thing and you struggle to see what is happening. I didn’t find that to be too much of a problem in this film.
Overall, probably one of the better war films out there. I’ve never particularly been one for war films. I like history but I much prefer documentaries and truth on the matter rather than soppy romances and fictitious elements. However, Hacksaw Ridge offers an honest portrayal of a real man and true events that is well set up and executed. The film remains engaging throughout even during the corny scenes towards the beginning between Garfield and Palmer and successfully achieves its purpose.
I give Hacksaw Ridge an 8.2/10