Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Hacksaw Ridge poster Rating: 8.4/10 (74,669 votes)
Director: Mel Gibson
Writer: Robert Schenkkan (screenplay), Andrew Knight (screenplay)
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Richard Pyros, Jacob Warner, Milo Gibson
Runtime: 139 min
Rated: R
Genre: Drama, History, War
Released: 04 Nov 2016
Plot: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Based on the stunning true story about Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who signed up for service in World War II, aiming to be a battlefield medic.  The unit he was assigned to after training was sent to fight in the bloodiest battle of the war in Okinawa, in the fight for Hacksaw Ridge.  Doss’ story of the acts of heroism he carried out, all the while refusing to use a weapon, is so astonishing that you would sneer at the implausibility of it had this not actually happened.

The film starts off showing the early life of Doss, and his relationship with his father (Hugo Weaving) in particular.  Raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, punishment doled out by his father for disobeying the commandments was harsh.  When, as a young boy, he almost kills his younger brother, Hal, he has the commandment of Thou Shalt Not Kill reinforced into him further, influencing his pacifistic nature in later life.  The film then picks up when Doss is a young man (played by Andrew Garfield), and shows his devotion to the preservation of life when he takes a man injured by a car accident to hospital, and there meets Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), a nurse whom Doss falls for and begins to court.  At the same time his interest in the medical profession is sparked.  When war breaks out, Doss signs up, and it is at this point that the film starts to really come into its own.

That first section of the film is very ‘TV movie’ soap operatic in nature, and for most of it it is hard to really see anything that stands out as being more than just average.  Garfield seems awkward and uncomfortable, and the budding romance with Schutte lacks conviction.  However, once the film hits boot-camp, the tone and direction changes completely.  Barracks humour is present, and there are echoes of films such as Full Metal Jacket with regards the contrast between the harshness of military punishment and the humour.  The film suddenly steps up a gear, with Doss’ battle to prove he should be allowed to join the war despite his refusal to take up a weapon.  It’s telling of how well handled this part of the film is that even Vince Vaughn, playing Sergeant Howell, doesn’t bog it down.  Indeed, Vaughn plays well against type here, and shows some of that promise that his early career showed, but was so quickly squandered for ‘comedy’ dross.

Once the film moves onto the battlefield, however, much humour is dropped, and the bloody brutality of war is brought to the forefront.  In the handling of these scenes Mel Gibson directs with a stark brutality that may shock and upset some people, not holding back on the bloody (and realistic) effects.  Much like how Spielberg shocked and stunned audiences with the Omaha beach landing in Saving Private Ryan, Gibson’s take on the battle for the Ridge is a visceral, harrowing experience.  It is in this moment that Garfield truly ups his game, and his awkwardness seen at the earlier point of the film now seems to have grown into something more, still looking slightly out of place, but all the more real because of it.

By the time the film ends, any speculation about the validity of the true story is swept away through a few clips of Doss talking about his experience.  Hacksaw Ridge is a film that you experience, not just watch, with the best depiction of war seen on screen since Saving Private Ryan.  Possibly Mel Gibson’s finest film to date, if it were not for the flawed opening act, which stumbles around unsure of itself, it could be classed as a masterpiece.  With that flaw, it is just simply a stunning, brutal and compelling character study of a man who did more than anyone expected in a very harsh environment.

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