The Verse’s Oliver Pendlington reviews 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge
Director: Mel Gibson
Screenplay: Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Vince Vaughn
Plot: The true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a devoted Christian who enlisted in the US Army to help as a medic during WW2. Although provoking controversy over his refusal to carry any weapons, he became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honour for saving dozens of soldiers during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.
Mel Gibson is the latest in a long line of filmmakers and actors to have made a stunning comeback. Following multiple convictions, the director of Braveheart and Passion of the Christ was side-lined by the film industry for many years. His last film was made at least 10 years ago. On the whole, Hacksaw Ridge seems a rather sensitive subject for him to tackle as his return, because of its real life hero’s pacifism against the violence that dominated WW2. But by ignoring any political ideas, Gibson astonishingly succeeds in telling a humanising story of morality and duty. Creating quite possibly the best WW2 movie since Saving Private Ryan.
Hacksaw Ridge is a thought-provoking war film because of, first and foremost, its complex character study of real-life hero Desmond Doss (Garfield). Firmly believing in the commandment to not kill anyone, Doss’s refusal to carry any weapon serves as a critical contradiction to his belief of joining the war. This lends intriguing pacifistic heft to the domestic and legal issues of the film’s first half. The drill camp scenes often channel those found in Full Metal Jacket, with Vince Vaughn even playing a foul-mouthed sergeant who can give R. Lee Ermey a run for his money. There is also a wonderful turn from Hugo Weaving as Doss’s alcoholic war-veteran father, a guilt-ridden man who fears losing his son at the hands of another war.
When the film reaches the intense 1945 Battle of Okinawa, we finally get to see actual combat. But rather than typical gung-ho heroism, Gibson focuses on showing the full horror of war in perhaps the most devastating footage since Private Ryan’s opening D-Day battle. There is at first enormous tension when the soldiers go up over the ridge and tread quietly through enemy territory. But when they are discovered by the Japanese, the setting explodes into a traumatising scene of death and carnage. Soldiers’ intestines are blown open. The wounded scream in pain. It is here that Doss’ beliefs are put to the test, as he endeavours to fulfil his duty by saving any wounded soldier that he finds.
Along with his role as a similarly-devoted Christian in Silence (2016), Doss is a defining career-turn for Garfield since his days as Spider-Man. Unlike Silence’s protagonist however, Doss is a fully-fledged three-dimensional person. He transforms from a hopeful devoted lad into a hero who does not hesitate from risking his own life to save others in the name of God. He is Garfield’s best role yet. One thoroughly deserving of all the plaudits that the actor has received. Garfield keeps Doss wonderfully human and selfless throughout, even against the adversity that he faces both off and on the battlefield. Considering the subject matter and superb performances, Hacksaw Ridge is a triumphant return for Gibson and a well-made film.