Hacksaw Ridge is the story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond Doss; a unique conscientious objector who wanted to serve but refused to carry a firearm of any kind. Andrew Garfield delivers a stellar performance as Doss, and he’s surrounded with a marvelous cast all around with acting talents like Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths. This marks the return of Mel Gibson behind the camera, having not officially directed anything since 2006’s Apocalypto, directing a script by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan. Hacksaw Ridge is definitely a great story, but a little muddled as a movie itself.
The movie opens on the battlefield of Hacksaw Ridge itself, but quickly flashes back to Doss’ childhood, then continues a linear narration after this jump back in time. Spending time with Desmond and his family in his childhood and teen years really helps connect us to Desmond, and give us a peak into why he so vehemently does not want to carry a firearm later. I feel a little too much time is spent here, but given how fast the story moves once he enlists, you quickly appreciate this because of how connected and invested we are in his journey. The screenplay does take some liberties with Desmond Doss’ biography, but telling a complete story in two hours and eleven minutes is a tall order to complete. Through my research so far, I’ve come to see that the movie does treat the source with great respect, and only makes small changes to help give the movie a better pace and not overflow the audience with unnecessary information related to Desmond Doss and the Battle of Okinawa.
Mel Gibson has not lost his touch on delivering giant, gritty, very realistic (and bloody) battle scenes. The action is chaotic like war, yet captured so clearly that you’re capable of following what’s happening on screen. A little rust can be felt by Gibson though, as we narrate through major moments in Desmond’s life with clunky transitions that can leave you asking for more of what happened in-between scenes. The more I think about it, the more I believe Gibson really did the best he could to deliver a compelling movie from a moment in history that could easily fill up a mini TV series. Gibson also doesn’t beat us over the head with overly religious tones, and simply tells the story of a religious man trying to serve his country.
Gibson certainly has not lost his touch on bringing out amazing performances from all the actors, everyone brings there A-game in this movie. I’ll be shocked if no one from Hacksaw Ridge is nominated for any acting Oscar. Vince Vaughn reminds us that he has impeccable drama chops, and Sam Worthington continues to shine is great supporting roles. Hugo Weaving perfectly portrays a tortured soul who can’t escape his mistakes, and brings so many levels to a character that could be simply written off as an angry drunk. This is an important character too, as he greatly shapes not Desmond but the choices Desmond makes. Andrew Garfield does a fantastic job of bringing Desmond Doss to the screen and showing us a real hero who lived among us, especially in this age of superhero films.
Hacksaw Ridge will definitely go down as one of the must-see war films of not only our generation but of all time. The unique perspective it has from other war films will set it apart. The story of Desmond Doss is so compelling, you will be aching to learn more about him after this film. Mostly with a desire to know if these events really happened, and for the most part, yes they did. When the movie does change details, it’s not to “Hollywoodize” the story, it’s really more a summary and slight tone down to make sure a general audience would believe this all actually happened*. Mel Gibson’s directorial return is certainly a marvel to witness on the big screen. Hacksaw Ridge is not only a must-see film, but a must-see in the theater film.
*I had a problem with the climatic scene at first, but after I read some excerpts from biographies of Desmond and the Battle of Okinawa my opinion quickly changed. What really happened was even more ridiculous, and I’ll leave it there to keep this review spoilers free. Please look into this if you are intrique.