Hacksaw Ridge is your typical war drama. It’s based on a true story of an incredible heroic human being who sacrificed his life to save countless others who also believed the act of killing and taking a human life is inhumane. He’s a pacifist, a conscientious objector, but still believed in serving his country in a time of need. That human is Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who joined the military to save lives as a medic, not take them with any kind of weapon in hand. Like all heroes that are depicted in war dramas, Doss is unlikely to be liked by his fellow peers especially for his convictions and beliefs.
He’s jumped, beaten senseless, made a mockery of and even Court Marshalled but all of the hell he’s put through on domestic soil never breaks him. Bends, certainly but never breaks. How can anyone put their faith in the person fighting next to them when that person is objecting to the war and killing? For the message of objecting war Hacksaw Ridge surely plays hypocritically in showing the horrific, gruesomeness to it. Sure, the fighting is necessary in any war film, that’s half the reason why we see them but here director Mel Gibson frames the action sequences to be more brutal than any horror film. There is a lot of carnage, missing limbs and charred flesh that’s being torn through like a knife through melted butter.
That said, the action sequences are stunningly vicious in Hacksaw Ridge. The fighting will make you want to look away, but the choreography will keep your attention. Each frame shows how much brutality that World War Two had. Most of the mainstream war films of WW2 depict the war from the European front so it’s nice to get a new perspective on the pacific – most notably with the fighting style of the Japanese soldiers. Where other countries may be more tactical and precise, the Japanese army used their numbers in force. The verisimilitude pours off the pages of the screenplay written by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight.
It may be difficult to pinpoint exactly where Desmond learned of his powerfully charged beliefs. Could it have been when he nearly killed his brother Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic) when the two were fighting in the yard? Or could it have been elsewhere? It’s assumed that Desmond vowed against violence based on the former and we don’t question it beyond that. Everyone stops to tell Desmond to quit, that he doesn’t belong here and he’s wasting everyone’s time, but they don’t care to see his point of view. Desmond is still willing to serve his country, something he learned from his father Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) who suffers from survivor’s guilt mixed with PTSD.
The dynamic between Tom and Desmond is relatable I’m sure but it’s how their relationship evolves over the course of Desmond enlisting to being on trial that speaks louder than any act of alcoholic induced violence from Tom could have. And though Tom is strongly against his boys serving, he understands why.
Hacksaw Ridge is a profound story about conviction, standing up for your beliefs despite heavy scrutiny, hope and inspiration with subtle hints of religion mixed in. It’s no secret that the director of The Passion of the Christ would use religious imagery in a war film. Look at that final shot, it’s right in your face but it makes sense to the person Desmond was. He was not a coward but a hero, plain and simple who saved 75 men at Hacksaw Ridge during the battle of Okinawa and was the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.
With majority of the film centering around the tropes that are identifiable with war dramas, we get the all too familiar barracks scenes with Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) screaming at the top of his lungs, popping blood vessels here and there to the training sequences of the obstacle course and the one on ones with Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), the exposition set up is necessary to the overall picture of who Desmond is as a man. When he wants something, he sets his mind to it including courting Dorothy (Teresa Palmer).
One war drama trope that stands out the most in Hacksaw Ridge because, frankly, it’s supposed to is the bond and brotherhood these men form with one another. To the platoon, Desmond is a coward, and they make every effort to show Desmond that he’s aware of it. It isn’t until the bloodbath of battle that the platoon understands Desmond’s intention. When the fighting starts, the chaos proves Desmond isn’t the coward everyone is accusing him of being, including Smitty (Luke Bracey). The screenplay gives moments between the fighting to highlight their relationship and brings it full circle from hatred to brothers within moments of each other.
Andrew Garfield gives a standout performance as Desmond. He did have a couple slip ups in his turn as Spider-Man, but this is a Social Network type Andrew Garfield performance. He’s charming and sweet and brave and sincere when he has to be, and it translates perfectly for the type of human Desmond Doss was. Hacksaw Ridge honors a legacy and the memory of Desmond Doss with an impactful story that no one should miss.
Hacksaw Ridge is written by Robert Schenkkan & Andrew Knight, directed by Mel Gibson is Rated R and has an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. Hacksaw Ridge was released on November 4, 2016 in the United States and has a runtime of 2 hours and 19 minutes. Hacksaw Ridge can be purchased from online retailers such as iTunes, Amazon and Google. 4 out of 5.