Starring Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Rachel Griffiths
Two-time Oscar winner Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”, “Apocalypto”) continues his 2016 comeback, this time back in the director’s chair, for the first time in a decade. “Hacksaw Ridge” is based on the equally incredible and humbling true story of WWII Conscientious Objector Desmond T. Doss. Gibson brings together his vast war film experience to embed the audience in one of the most graphic war themed movies I’ve seen on the big screen. Requiring quite a bit of backstory into the mind and morals of Doss, the audience doesn’t know what sort of film this is until the first shot is fired on the battlefield, by then it’s too late to leave. Gibson assembles an entirely Australian cast and crew except for British actor Andrew Garfield (“The Amazing Spider-Man”) and Vince Vaughn (“Swingers”) the only American in the movie.
From the Blue Ridge Mountains, Desmond Doss (Garfield) like many other young men his age signed up for the army in the 1940’s. The only difference is Doss objects to carrying a weapon. He volunteers to be a medic, but when Sergeant Howell (Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Worthington) try to push him on the issue, even bully him to resign, his faith and determination are much stronger than anything the military is armed with. Finally, after a court marshal and an intervention from Washington DC, Doss is assigned to the 77th Infantry Division as a medic, during the Battle of Okinawa. Still viewed as an obstacle, Doss’s heroics and bravery are about to prove to the men who have mocked, beaten and shamed him, how very wrong they were.
Gibson brings together his vast war film experience to embed the audience in one of the most graphic war themed movies I’ve seen on the big screen.
Gibson has no mercy on the viewer with how violent he is willing to make “Hacksaw Ridge”. You could argue he lingers too long on the violence, on the other hand, Gibson refuses to sugarcoat anything about wartime. Much like “The Passion of the Christ”, “Hacksaw Ridge” will appeal to the conservative base, as Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist. “Murder is the worst sin of all,” Doss’s mother explains. “Hacksaw Ridge” isn’t an agenda film however, and the religious influence on the film comes and goes throughout this retelling. It is nearly impossible not to be moved by Doss’s determination and conviction. He will be the greatest hero depicted on screen in 2016. There is a scene in “Forrest Gump” where Hank’s character runs into an airstrike, carrying out multiple wounded, including of course Lieutenant Dan. This story is an expansion on that fictional sequence.
“All I saw was a shy kid,” Captain Glover says in way of apology after Doss’s well documented heroics. “I didn’t know who you were”. That’s the ultimate sentiment of the film, bringing this medal of honor’s actions to the big screen. There is a family dinner scene early in the film that had such an unintended reaction from the audience and took me completely out of the story. Weaving who plays the father is reacting to his youngest son’s enlistment. Whether it was accent dysfunction, a poorly coordinated scene, or tone misjudgment, this emotional scene was laughed at during the screening. Garfield’s performance isn’t particularly moving, nor do any of the performances strike new emotional ground. In Vaughn’s introductory scene, it’s very clear he is playing the “Mel Gibson” persona, but he is quite good in this role. It’s the heroics and humbling story of Doss that shine the brightest in this film.
You won’t find a more heroic story on the big screen in 2016.