The word relentless springs to mind when I think of Hacksaw Ridge. It’s a film that commits completely to capturing the intensity and brutality of war. It does not hold back. Bloods, guts, limbs are on full display and young Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is at the heart of the action. Volunteering to fight in WW2, Doss is proud to serve his country and is eager to do his bit as a medic. But there’s just one issue. He refuses to pick up a gun, as he’s bound by his religious faith.
Doss was a real-life American combat medic, a devout Christian who put his body on the line without ever firing a weapon. The film chronicles the life of Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the medal of honour. It’s an amazing story about surely one of the bravest men in history. I still can’t get my head around how this guy had the courage to fight in one of the bloodiest wars, without using any form of defence.
Sentimental and brutal
The film is essentially split into two halves, with the first lulling you into a false sense of security as Doss meets Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), who he quickly falls in love with. Fortunately, the Hollywood sentimentalism is quickly replaced by some much-needed grit as then, the film focuses on Doss’ training in the military and how he manages his no-gun stance in a very hostile environment. The other soldiers don’t take too kindly to his refusal to use a weapon, so Doss becomes an outsider in the training camp. But the real action takes place in the second half where Doss and the rest of the army fight in the Battle of Okinawa, and this is when the film really gets going.
The war scenes are testament to Mel Gibson’s directing. Explosions and gunfire galore comes in full throttle. Quick rapid cutting between scenes reflect the chaos of war and it’s a deeply immersive experience. For most of us, this is as close as it gets. It’s very realistic, even the whizzing sounds of bullets draw you into the film as if you are actually in a battlefield. The level of detail and the visual effects are very impressive too.
Also, the film manages to balance its character study of Doss and its study of the war itself. You feel every pain and psychological battering these men are subjected to, and it does make you think once again how awful it must have been to participate in such violence. The film definitely has some of the most intense and brutal battle sequences I have ever seen. Like I said at the beginning of this review, they are relentless, but it’s all done for a wider purpose of course.
Andrew Garfield is excellent as Doss, even though the religious stuff is layered on a bit too strong at times. He plays the character with so much energy, charisma and good-nature that he pretty much steals every scene. The former Spider-Man has put his web slinging days behind him and is making really good films with great directors, including Martin Scorsese’s recent film Silence.
But Hacksaw Ridge isn’t just the Andrew Garfield show. All the supporting cast are solid in their roles. Vince Vaughn produces a great performance as Sergeant Howell. Also, Hugo Weaving shows surprising depth as Doss’ drunken father, a troubled war veteran, who is made into so much more than just a typical abusive alcoholic.
The only thing that stops this film from being exceptional, is the slowly-paced first act where we have to sit and watch a boring love story. Obviously Doss’ backstory had to be established, but it goes on for longer than necessary.
Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful, emotional and an incredibly well-made film. I’m glad Desmond Doss’ story has been brought to light in this film, because I knew nothing about the guy before watching. War films are overdone, but Hacksaw Ridge feels like its own animal.
Quoted: “I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.”
Director: Mel Gibson
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving.
Writers: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Run Time: 139 min