Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson returns to the director’s chair in World War II biopic Hacksaw Ridge, a gripping true story of the incredible faith and courage of a very different kind of war hero.

Photo: Lionsgate

An Impressive Cast

Andrew Garfield stars as U.S Army medic Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his extraordinary bravery on Okinawa. Refusing to kill or carry a weapon, Doss singlehandedly treated seventy-five wounded soldiers, evacuating them while wounded himself and under enemy fire.

With source material like this it would be difficult not to deliver, and Gibson doesn’t disappoint.

An impressive supporting cast only adds further depth. Hugo Weaving gives a strong performance as Tom Doss, Desmond’s alcoholic father, and Teresa Palmer impresses as Desmond’s sweetheart Dorothy Schutte, in a romance both sweet and low enough on sap. While Sam Worthington cuts the authority figure as Captain Glover, Vince Vaughn’s Sergeant Howell still feels slightly out of place.

Garfield is certainly the standout as the soft-spoken Doss, whose unassuming nature stands in stark contrast to the brutality of combat.

Photo: Lionsgate

Gore And Graphic Violence

Comparisons to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan have been plentiful since the film’s release on November 4, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Like the 1998 Oscar winner, Hacksaw Ridge certainly doesn’t hold back in terms of graphic violence. It doesn’t take long for the audience to get a taste either, with a brief flash to the battle from the very first scene.

These sequences are intense to say the least, and reinforce the horrific realities faced by American troops on Okinawa. Wounds are gruesome, dismemberment is frequent, and the ground littered with the gory results of machine-gun and artillery fire.

The sound in this film is phenomenal, from the piercing crack of rifles to the near whiz of bullets that will have you wincing. Don’t be surprised to see Hacksaw Ridge up for a Sound Editing nomination (among others) at the Academy Awards this February.

Some scenes do appear somewhat incompatible with the film’s visceral, realistic tone however. American soldiers firing from the hip, and even a severed torso carried forward as a makeshift shield, steer the film in a no doubt unwanted direction for Gibson.

Photo: Lionsgate

Keeping Faith In Times Of War

It’s the clear focus on faith that separates Hacksaw Ridge from wearing a simple ‘war movie’ label though. Doss’s incredible bravery is driven by his firm convictions as a Seventh-day Adventist. The consequent commitment to keeping the biblical Ten Commandments lies at the heart of his desire to ‘do his duty’, without compromising his principles.

Gibson ultimately hits the mark in purposely highlighting the religious motivation of Doss without sermonising the audience.

The clear contrast that results is the film’s real strength. Doss is not a fighter, and he doesn’t lead the victory charges or fire the killing shots. But he is a man prepared to die to save life, without adding to the bloodshed himself. It’s precisely this irregularity that makes Hacksaw Ridge a film worth watching.

Hacksaw Ridge is in cinemas from November 4, with a DVD and Blu-ray release coming in early 2017.

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