Hacksaw Ridge (2016) 4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Mel Gibson
Starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey
Nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Garfield), Best Director (Gibson), Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing
IMDb’s Top 250: #131
With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me to wanna put a little bit of it back together—Desmond Doss
Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a combat medic during WWII and the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor. Born in Virginia, Doss was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist by his parents, and took strict oaths of nonviolence, vegetarianism, and Sabbath-keeping (Saturday is the Sabbath for Seventh-day Adventists). When America enters WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Desmond (Garfield in an extremely moving performance) enlists in the US Army, with the intent on signing on as a combat medic; this way, in his mind, he would be saving lives, not taking them. However, he gets a rude awakening when he is threatened with a court-martial after refusing to touch a weapon.
After bring cleared by the government to “run into the hellfire of war without so much as a single weapon to defend himself,” Desmond and his company are sent to Okinawa with the objective to take Hacksaw Ridge, a long-Japanese-held fortification on the top of a cliff. Desmond endures a day and night of bloodshed and hell, but when an order is given to retreat, Desmond ignores it and stays on the ridge for two days, eventually carrying 75 wounded men to safety, the action for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Wow. What an incredible film. This might be Mel Gibson’s best movie. He’s not known for his directorial nuance or for being subtle, but this is a film that didn’t particularly need it. The horrors of war, the personal hell soldiers go through, and the heroism that is brought out in war are all highlighted here in grim and visceral detail—trademark Gibson style. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen during the second half of the movie, when Desmond and co. are shipped off to Okinawa. Haunting, jarring stuff. Some people will definitely be thrown off by Gibson’s depiction of Japanese soldiers (very dehumanizing) and others will scoff at his not-so-subtle Jesus symbolism thrown in at the end (I did), but as a whole, the film really solidifies Gibson as a competent director.
Andrew Garfield is phenomenal and really shows off his acting chops with his performance, especially in the second act of the film. He is goofy, amiable, but fiercely proud of his beliefs, but it is his transformation during the battle scenes that really underscores what makes Garfield’s performance truly exceptional. You can see the wild fear in his eyes while he’s dodging Japanese bullets, you can see the anguish in his heart as he watches his friends die. There’s one scene in particular when he’s hiding in a foxhole and he pokes his head out and watches Japanese soldiers cut a wounded American soldier’s throat. The camera focuses on Desmond’s face and the anger and pain he feels at that moment. This was a career-defining performance from Andrew Garfield.
My one misgiving about the film is some of the VFX were not so well done; in particular, the blood spurts when someone gets shot in the battle sequences, and the artillery fire from the Naval ships. Not so great.
All in all, a well-acted, solidly directed, hauntingly beautiful war film that will stay with its viewers for a long time. I know it will take a long time for me to the blankness of Desmond’s eyes as he finally comes off of Hacksaw Ridge.
Fun fact: While at the end of the movie it says Desmond saved 75 men by directly lowering them from the escarpment, he also treated around 55 more that were able to retreat without assistance after treatment during the battle. Over the course of his tour, which lasted approximately three weeks, he rescued near 300 men.
Why you should watch it: For fans of Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket or war movies in general, it really is an incredible film and deserves to be mentioned with those films in the conversation of great war movies
Why you shouldn’t: If war movies aren’t your thing, or if you still are mad at Mel Gibson for being kind of a terrible person.
ONE MORE LEFT. Join me on Friday for my review of Manchester by the Sea! If you liked/loved/hated Hacksaw Ridge, let me know in the comment below, and thanks for reading!