Hacksaw Ridge follows World War 2 army medic Desmond T. Doss and his involvement in the Battle of Okinawa. Doss desperately wishes to serve his country but is also a devout pacifist who refuses to ever touch a gun. After much resistance, he is allowed into the field of battle with no weapon to protect himself. This is a very inspirational story about someone trying to bring a ray of light into one of the darkest and most horrible places imaginable. It is also a very grounded and realistic depiction of WWII and the horrors of the battle on Hacksaw Ridge. Films like this are important as they remind us of these dark times so that we may find a way to avoid them in the future and this film definitely fulfils this as war is never glorified, and every death hits you like a punch to the chest. This film is directed by Mel Gibson and stars Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, with supporting roles from Sam Worthing, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey and Hugo Weaving.
This film does a very good job of making you feel connected to all of its characters. All of soldiers surrounding Doss are given as much personality as Doss himself, in the Boot Camp scenes these characters have banter and personal conflicts and overall feel very real. There are actually quite a few moments of comedy during Boot Camp which weren’t silly or out of place but instead surprisingly pleasant and I think essential in making these people as likeable and human as they were. Even the characters who aren’t particularly likeable to start with become more sympathetic as the film goes on. The performances from the supporting cast were all on point and sold these character’s authenticity. I was especially surprised by the quality of Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington, who both played Doss’s superiors, as I would never have expected to see them in roles like this. Vaughn brought some of the comedy in the Boot Camp scenes as the Drill Sargent, but it wasn’t over the top or played simply for laughs as you might expect from the star of ‘Dodge Ball,’ it was instead subtle and based more on his characters actions, rather than him just trying to be funny, and when the film enters the scenes of war he fits right in with the serious tone. However, the strongest performance and character is definitely Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss. He is sweet, charming and funny, but also has a determination and passion to do all he can to help, which makes him and his struggle incredibly engaging. Garfield plays him perfectly. Between this and ‘Silence’ he has definitely shown that his role in ‘The Social Network’ was not a one-off, and has proved to have incredible acting talent and a very likeable presence that enhances the films he is in.
Mel Gibson’s direction is also fantastic. He manages to create visceral scenes of war that are gritty and real without resulting to shaky cam to create intensity. The battle scenes are beautifully crafted to show the horror of war. It isn’t just a faceless army dying with no real emotional impact, as every death is handled with emotional sincerity. The action is saddening as well as gripping and engaging. The film is expertly crafted, as it doesn’t jump straight into the violence but instead dedicated the first half of the film to building connections with the characters, so that when the action starts you are heavily invested in the stakes. The big action set piece of Hacksaw Ridge is on the same level as the D-day sequence at the start of ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ and might even be a step above it for me due to the emotional connection you have to the characters before the action starts. It’s very common for historical films and war films to be very long, but this film feels very concise, everything feels important and I never felt like it was dragging, which makes this film very re-watchable, at least for me. Gibson manages to make a big war epic that also feels like a small personal story.
Hacksaw Ridge is an incredibly engaging and emotional film. It’s an inspirational story with an outstanding performance from Andrew Garfield. The way it portrays war is horrifying, but is overall a positive film of someone trying to do some good in the worst of times. I would definitely recommend seeing this film.
P.S. This is the second film I’ve seen this month that stars Andrew Garfield, playing a real life person in a historical event, who is a Christian who’s faith and religion is challenged, who goes to Japan and persecuted/attacked by Japanese people. It’s funny that he’s been in both this and ‘Silence,’ which are both very different films but have characters that are weirdly similar. Maybe he wants this to be his new typecast.