STARRING: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Rachel Griffiths, Richard Roxburgh, Luke Pegler, Richard Pyros, Ben Mingay, Firass Dirani, Jacob Warner, Goran D. Kleut, Harry Greenwood, Robert Morgan, Damien Thomlinson, Nathaniel Buzolic, Ori Pfeffer, Milo Gibson, John Batziolas, John Cannon, Mikael Koski and Charles Jacobs
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.
Hacksaw Ridge is a biographical war film focusing on the experiences of Desmond Doss, an American pacificist combat medic who was a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian, that refused to carry or use a firearm of any kind going out to join the war. Doss would end up becoming the first conscientious objector to be award the Medal of Honor for service above and beyond the call of duty.
It’s been over ten years since we’ve had a Mel Gibson directed film screen at are local cinemas and returning to helm since Apocalypto, Mel directs a World War II film focusing on the true story of combat medic Desmond Doss, who just happens to be a pacificist who went to war refusing to carry or use a firearm in the battlefield and his actions in the Battle of Okinawa would earn him the Medal of Honor, making him the first ‘conscientious objector’ to do so, though Doss would probably still call himself more of a ‘conscientious cooperator’.
As we already know from the films Gibson has directed before, he has an eye for a good shot. Most notably his directing strength comes in the Battle of Okinawa phase of the film, particularly the opening sequence in which we pan out from the 77th Infantry Division and then a crane shot takes us above the cliffs edge nicknamed ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ to show the devastation of the artillery bombardments hitting the landing zone. The battle sequences have some of the most brutal visual violence I’ve experienced on film since Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, from some being burnt alive to just intestines being the only remaining parts of the victims of battle, the film doesn’t hold back on the consequences of war front. It’s also in the second half of the film where the editing from John Gilbert and the score from Rupert Gregson-Williams is where their work excels, particularly for Gilbert on the various shots for example of someone firing their weapon from Birdseye view to running towards the enemy and how that smoothly cuts together. In terms of performance, Andrew Garfield is riveting as Desmond Doss, a man whose belief’s is seen as weakness in the eyes of his fellow soldiers and superiors as they shun and abuse him mentally and physically for his belief’s in the hope that he’ll quit and leave them for good. Garfield carries the film on his shoulders as we get to know and relate to the character for a while first before we’re watching him overcome the obstacles in the army before becoming a hero out in the battlefield. In terms of supporting cast, Teresa Palmer is good as Dorothy Schutte who ends up becoming Doss’s wife even though her presence is limited in the film, Vince Vaughn is decent as Sergeant Howell which even though he has a few comedic lines here it’s still a different character to what Vaughn normally plays and Luke Bracey thankfully had this film to followup after the Point Break remake as I thought he gave a really good performance here as Smitty Riker.
The problem that I had and what some may have is how the first half of the film before Doss is sent to war is handled. We’re given an introduction to Desmond’s upbringing and his family, as well as how he meets Dorothy and how that relationship develops. The relationship with Dorothy in particular is done in a way that is almost TV film-esque in the way that their scenes are shot, right down to the use of light in those scenes. While we’re giving some depth into the abuse that goes on in the Doss household, Desmond’s brother in particular completely vanishes from memory in the film once he enlists to join the war first, much to the disgust of their father Tom Doss. There’s one scene in particular during the Battle of Okinawa that will undoubtedly will be re-edited online with the Benny Hill music and the final shot of the film just doesn’t work with the symbolism it suggests…..at all. As always with a war film and a large ensemble, once the bullets start flying and the bodies just dropping, admittedly I lost concentration a few times trying to figure out who died from the list of characters we were introduced to half an hour before.
Andrew Garfield is terrific as Desmond Doss and is thankfully getting these more serious roles after the Amazing Spider-Man films. The directing from Gibson during the Battle of Okinawa scenes are horrifically brutal and yet riveting to watch, where as for me the films first half in terms of tone and feeling too melodramatic down the experience down a level for me. 7/10