500 Days Of Film Reviews True-Life Drama, Hacksaw Ridge, Starring Andrew Garfield
In Okinawa, during one of the bloodiest battles of World War 2, Private Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. The only American soldier in WW2 to fight on the front lines without a weapon, Doss believed that while the war was justified, killing was wrong.
As an army medic, Doss single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines and braved fire while treating soldiers. He was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers.
Desmond Doss was the first conscientious objector (he preferred the term conscientious cooperator) awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Is It Any Good?
Hacksaw Ridge has been described as the cinematic rehabilitation of director, Mel Gibson, following a series of well documented verbal misdemeanours. Can (or should) we separate the art from the artist? This is a question for which, of course, there is no easy answer. Gibson’s odious comments will likely haunt his career forever.
This makes Hacksaw Ridge something of a coup for the Australian director. For who could resist a story as remarkable as that of Private Desmond Doss? His heroic achievements during WW2 are more than enough to persuade us to look past the storyteller and focus on the story itself.
Hacksaw Ridge is a film of two halves. The first half comprises a tale of family conflict and Nic Sparks-esque unconditional love. Amid the romance, we are hand fed the reasons behind Desmond Doss’ rejection of guns and violence.
Far from subtle, Hacksaw Ridge strays dangerously close to becoming cheesy. However, the superb performances - particularly from Andrew Garfield and Hugo Weaving - keep us invested, particularly given what is to come.
After Doss signs up to serve in the US Army, he is sent to a training camp. These scenes feel uneven, blending odd moments of humour (largely thanks Vince Vaughn’s Sergeant Howell) with brutality and prejudice. Here, Hacksaw Ridge crosses familiar cinematic territory, bringing Full Metal Jacket and even An Officer And A Gentleman to mind.
It is when Doss and his battalion reach Okinawa and face Hacksaw Ridge (in the second half of the film) that Gibson’s movie takes flight. The visceral scenes of war are an adrenaline-fueled assault on the senses. The movie does not shy away from the horror (comparisons have been made to Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan) and we see it all in high definition.
Some have criticized these scenes as being nothing more than war porn. However, I did not get the sense that Gibson was reveling in the scenes of violence. For me, these sequences emphasized the hellish nightmare of this battle, making Doss’ actions that much more miraculous.
Meanwhile, as with many of Gibson’s movies, Hacksaw Ridge also explores religion and faith. While I would have liked the film to have developed Doss’ beliefs (he was a devout Seventh Day Adventist), it effectively portrays the strength of his faith and also that of the Japanese commander facing the consequences of failure.
Left at the top of Hacksaw Ridge, Doss prays for the strength to save “just one more” and then “just one more” after that. How he found the strength is beyond me and these, thanks to Garfield’s powerful performance, are the film’s most effective and deeply moving scenes.
Hacksaw Ridge left me stunned and filled with awe at the bravery of Desmond Doss and all those who fought to protect the freedoms that we often take for granted today.
Desmond Doss never lived to see his story told on the big screen. He died in 2006.
US President Truman presented Doss with the Medal of Honor on 12 October, 1945.
Have you seen Hacksaw Ridge?
If you have, what did you think of this film? Can you separate the art from the artist? Let me know! Leave me a comment in the box below.