Many audience members have come accustomed to our War films to be filled with soldiers looking for glory during conflict in the name of God and country. They shoot, slash and bleed on the battlefield as we cheer them on as they vanquish what is deemed evil in their eyes. Those genre characteristics is what makes Mel Gibson’s newest directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge starring Andrew Garfield such a unique military focused experience at the movies. The film tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a soldier looking to honor America and his religion at the same time, which complicates the entire military establishment completely when Doss refuses to take up arms to fight the Axis of Evil in World War II.
Garfield is fantastic as the religious country boy from Virginia who didn’t have the best upbringing thanks to his drunk veteran father Tom (Hugo Weaving) who is still dealing with his own demons from his time in service. Garfield doesn’t play Doss as this ME! ME! religious martyr, but a simple man who believes he can still help the boys overseas without picking up a rifle. As you can imagine this goes over poorly with the American Military Institution of WWII. Doss is ridiculed and tortured for his beliefs, but never falters in his convictions even though most people would deem his thought process suicidal.
Hacksaw Ridge is the type of film that will surely gain Oscar buzz thanks to the outstanding performance of Andrew Garfield as Doss, but Gibson’s work does have a few issues. For Doss’ religion to play such an important part of his fight with his right not to bear arms, not much is explained as to why his beliefs were so strong. A few scenes from Doss’ past are sprinkled in, but not enough time is spent on his beliefs that risked the lives of American soldiers. Also his platoon is your basic generic runts with thick accents based on where they’re from with very limited backgrounds other than they want Doss to quit.
There’s also some odd casting involving Vince Vaughn as Sergeant Howell who at times doesn’t quite fit into this dramatic war epic. There are moments when he has a look on his face like “What am I doing here?”. Vaughn does manage to garner some laughs in a motion picture that is emotionally heavy and graphic with its portrayal of War. Vaughn should be commended for stepping out of his comedy comfort zone to work with Gibson even if the actor doesn’t have the physicality (even with a height of 6 ft 5 inches) to pull off the role as a Sergeant leading his men into gunfire. He’s just not as believable as Sam Worthington who plays Doss’ Captain who is dumbfounded by this wannabe Medic who refuses to pick up a gun and fight.
The minor missteps in the creative process of Hacksaw Ridge can be forgiven thanks to Mel Gibson’s recreation of the bloody Battle of Okinawa where Garfield shines showing the world Doss could still be a vital member on the war front. Gibson who is no stranger showing “War is Hell” in previous work such as Braveheart leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to the horrors the men faced battling the Japanese in the Pacific during WWII. Limbs are blown off, a dead soldier’s torso is used as a shield and the close range fighting is intense as the Japanese point there rifles and bayonets towards Allied troops. Hacksaw Ridge is not for the faint of heart as you are thrown into the gory battle with Doss as he tries to stay in one piece while saving the wounded with nothing to fight back with except his wits.
Mel Gibson shows in Hacksaw Ridge that he still has the skills to pull off a grand violent spectacle full of blood and guts while still delivering a powerful message concerning faith and honoring your beliefs no matter what the cost. Doss’ Conscience Objector is a depiction of a soldier that we have never seen before on the big screen, which makes Hacksaw Ridge a compelling watch whether you agree with his choices or not. Andrew Garfield shows through his work in Hacksaw Ridge that he is more than just the guy from the failed The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, but a gifted actor showing a different side to the American soldier under the watch of director Mel Gibson.
Overall, I give Hacksaw Ridge 3 out of 4 solid stars.
Read all T.M.’s reviews here–>Entertainment Now with T.M. Powell