THE STORY – The true story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during WWII on religious grounds. Doss was drafted and ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance but went on to earn respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion after he risked his life — without firing a shot — to save 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa.
THE CAST – Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths & Vince Vaughn
THE TEAM – Mel Gibson (Director), Andrew Knight & Robert Schenkkan (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 131 Minutes
By Matt N.
”Hacksaw Ridge” is being touted as Mel Gibson’s comeback film. Is it any good? Well, according to “South Park” the phrase goes, “Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but the son of a bitch knows story structure.” Outside of the silver screen, Mel Gibson’s personal history has tarnished his career and he has been in the doghouse with the industry and audiences for years. This is his first film in 10 years and it’s just as dramatic, over the top and cheesy as “Braveheart,” “The Passion Of The Christ,” and “Apocalypto.” This would normally be a bad thing in the hands of a less gifted filmmaker, but Gibson’s ability as a storyteller and his penchant for delivering a film that we quite honestly don’t see as often as we used to makes “Hacksaw Ridge” a refreshing and searing cinematic experience.
Based on a true story, “Hacksaw Ridge” takes place during World War II as Private Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) decides to enlist in the war despite his religious beliefs which compel him to not kill and thus not even touch a gun. He is considered to be a conscientious objector yet still wants to serve as a medic so that he may save life instead of taking it. He faces scrutiny from his commanding officers Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) and the other soldiers he serves with including a tough soldier named Smitty (Luke Bracey). After marrying his wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) and leaving her and his parents (Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths) back at home, Doss is sent to Japan and fights in the Battle of Okinawa where he goes on to save 75 men in the process becomes the first conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal Of Honor.
If there are two stars in “Hacksaw Ridge” it’s leading man Andrew Garfield and Mel Gibson himself. Let’s start with Andrew Garfield. This is his most mature and dramatic work yet. If the accent in the trailer turns you off, I promise you that you forget it while watching the film. Garfield is so perfect at conveying a vulnerable strength which has managed to make him so relatable in films such as “The Social Network,” “99 Homes” and even as Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spiderman.” In “Hacksaw Ridge” he really gets you to understand the decisions which Desmond Doss makes and why through his convictions.
Mel Gibson is the other true star of “Hacksaw Ridge” in how he presents the story. Now let me get this out of the way. The story is overly dramatic and you can see all of the familiar plot points that track Desmond’s story. However, this familiarity is not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. Gibson crafts “Hacksaw Ridge” as a throwback film that harkens back to the straightforward yet powerful storytelling that he displayed in “Braveheart.” It’s this presentation that may make some more arthouse critics and moviegoers roll their eyes about how on the nose Gibson lays the dialogue and dramatic moments on the audience. But for those looking for a good old-fashioned movie-going experience, there is a lot to enjoy in “Hacksaw Ridge.”
The film is split into two halves as we see Desmond Doss’ upbringing, his life back at home before enlisting in the war and the adversity he faces from his superior officers and fellow soldiers when he states that not only killing a man but touching a gun is against his religious beliefs. The second half of the film takes place in Okinawa as the battle for Hacksaw Ridge takes place with Desmond serving as a medic and sticking to his beliefs to not fire a single weapon to protect himself. It’s in the second half of the story that we are reminded of what a talented director Gibson is, providing us with some of the most graphic horrific violence in a war film since “Saving Private Ryan.” The one thing that Gibson never loses sight of though despite the onslaught of bullets and explosions is the experience of Doss and the heroics he displayed in the battle itself, long after his fellow soldiers had retreated. The scene showing Desmond saving his fellow soldiers from slaughter is one of the most powerful montages I’ve ever seen put to film and Gibson deserves all the credit for how that sequence is put together.
Now is “Hacksaw Ridge” perfect? I’m afraid not. Despite how taken I was with the movie, there are a few narrative beats (Desmond’s first date with Dorothy) which are extremely awkward and cringeworthy in how they are presented to the audience. As stated before, this is not highbrow cinema. This is a mainstream war film that casual audiences will more likely proclaim is the best film they saw all year. It’s not. It’s still an enjoyable experience if you can get past Gibson’s heavy-handed imagery and dramatic moments that reinforce his and Desmond’s religious faith to the audience. Performances from the rest of the cast are a little all over the place with Vince Vaughn being woefully miscast and Sam Worthington’s accent creeping back into many of his lines, but Hugo Weaving nails the role as Desmond’s alcoholic father so much so that he nearly steals the film from Garfield.
Technical aspects of the film are incredibly top notch with the sound design being a force to be reckoned with come the Oscars. The battle wounds, blood and dirt stains showcase the makeup work on display, while Rupert Greyson Williams’ score soars to dramatic heights in a pronounced way that we casually don’t hear all that much in movies today. All in all, “Hacksaw Ridge” is a film that is certainly worth checking out despite how you feel about the film’s religious views, Gibson’s views or your view of cinema. It’s a powerful story, powerfully told and deserves to be seen.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A powerful true story and visceral graphic war scenes. Andrew Garfield’s performance. The film’s technical merits.
THE BAD – Overly dramatic and forced storytelling that more highbrow audiences will find cringeworthy.