Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of WWII army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa while refusing to bear arms or kill anymore. He went on to become the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
The story is a remarkable one and one that will fall in the vein of Saving Private Ryan for its ability to show both the horrors and heroism of war, but this time from the Pacific point of view. Say what you want about Mel Gibson and his own personal beliefs, but the man can direct a film. He can capture and manipulate the camera to make you feel like you are right there while grabbing great performances from those in his films.
Portraying an actual, real-life war hero can be tricky and daunting and Andrew Garfield does a great job in the film, but his “gee gosh golly” attitude is almost a bit much to take, until you see the actual footage of Doss himself and realize that’s who he really was. Garfield has great chemistry with everyone on screen; from Teresa Palmer and Hugo Weaving pre-WWII to Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington post enlistment.
Vaughn and Worthington do amazing jobs with their roles, with Vaughn bringing some much needed humor to the story. The solid cast doesn’t stop there as every supporting player shines, making the most of their moments. Gibson has you connecting with each of them so much that when one of them does meet their fateful end, you find yourself a bit distraught over it. Surprisingly enough, the one miscast role was Hugo Weaving as Doss’ father and World War I veteran. Weaving’s accent is just a bit too off-putting and was not up to what I expect from someone of his stature.
The writing by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan has some great hits and some slight trip ups. The hits make the film feel like it could be an Oscar nominated feature, but the trip-ups feel more like a Lifetime movie. A film of this magnitude should never have a scene that feels like it should be part of a straight to DVD film.
Gibson’s directing style is fantastic and it’s been said that the movie is the most realistic war film since Saving Private Ryan and it is, but while Gibson is a brilliant director and the whole film has a great and amazing build up, his editing leaves a bit to be desired. As the film draws you in and leads you to believe that you are going to see this great homecoming-esque/hero’s welcome, the final moments reveal an unexpected twist that hits like a sucker punch to the gut. It is hard to overcome the feeling that they didn’t know how to draw everything to a close, opting to throw a bunch of “here’s what happened to Doss and his wife”. Fortunately the film’s greatness is preserved thanks to some real-life interview footage with Doss and members of his regime.
Ultimately Hacksaw Ridge has way more hits than misses and should be seen by everyone. There should be a few Oscar nominations coming this way (should being the operative word here). With it coming out between Doctor Strange and Star Wars: Rogue One, and with Gibson being the man in the director’s chair, its mainstream appeal is unknown. But do yourself a favor and give this one a chance; you’ll be glad that you did.