Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthingon, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving
Running Time: 139mins
Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of the Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who enrolled into the army to do his part but objected to carrying a firearm and killing anybody. His actions in the Battle of Okinawa lead to being awarded the Medal of Honour for his bravery and actions during the battle.
We are introduced to the young Doss brothers, Hal and Desmond, as they live in their little town, growing up under the cloud of their fathers post-war self loathing and brutality. Apart from this Desmond is brought up as a Seventh-Day Adventist and is particularly devout in his adherence to the teachings of the Bible. After enrolling into the army, Desmond’s beliefs are truly tested to their fullest, from numerous directions.
Make no mistake there are some really brutal scenes in the first battle sequence. The images are kinetic, charged and assailed my senses from the start. These sequences are by far the best thing in this film, it takes knocks the breath out of you from the very beginning of the action in a very similar way that Saving Private Ryan did; Death and destruction is so immediate and devastating that it shocks you. And it keeps on coming.
Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss as a bit simple and a bit strange and this continues throughout the first half of the film. Once the war kicks in he changes into a man of duty, driven to prove his worth and give back a little bit of good into this moment of darkness by rescuing and healing injured soldiers, showing his resilience and bravery. I feel that Garfield’s performance here is a much deeper and more emotional performance than his other recent role in Silence, which I didn’t conjure up the same emotional reaction in me.
Vince Vaughn is a strange option as Drill Sergeant, never quite getting across the level of anger and control that he is trying to portray, especially when you consider his performance against some of the other Drill Sergeants of memory; R Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket, Louis Gossett Junior in Officer and a Gentleman. Sam Worthington is more convincing as the Captain Glover and Hugo Weaving gets to play the war-affected father to the Doss brothers, violent and self loathing he really comes across as someone ravaged by the effects of war and the fall out of what happens afterwards. Teresa Palmer, Doss’ girlfriend and then wife, also puts in a good performance, getting her emotion across as her other half goes through trials and harsh treatment for his beliefs. This is all about Doss though and Garfield puts in a great performance from start to finish.
Tonally it is a game of two halves; the first half is scene-setting whereas the second, with all the fighting, is dark, impressive and bombastic and had me glued to the screen until the final credits. Mel Gibson has put together a really strong story and managed to get in an emotional connection to the protagonist, enabling you to really care about his outcome. Being a non-religious person it certainly is saying something that he can make me feel something for Desmond, and his beliefs, who was willing to forgo any kind of protection and throw themselves into the heat of battle.
With a few minor notes against, Hacksaw Ridge is a really good, well made, enthralling and engrossing war movie played out from a different angle. Gibson and Garfield are to be commended for this one and have rightly been recognised for this achievement.