Review: Brutal Yet Inspiring ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ May Be Gibson’s Best Movie to Date
In Hacksaw Ridge director Mel Gibson shows no mercy as he expertly conveys the relentless and devastating carnage of war. These battle scenes are not for the faint of heart as bodies are blown to bits with guts exposed, tumbling on fire, and bursting through explosions. Gibson intentionally did not ease off as he wanted to realistically depict the massacred mission to take Hacksaw Ridge in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
At a press conference in Los Angeles he justified the violence and the bloodshed in those scenes, “Okinawa was the greatest loss of life in the South Pacific. I mean the Japanese even described it as a steel rain of bullets, explosions and napalm was used. So I wanted it to be real. And I think it also highlights what it means for a man with conviction of faith to go in to a situation that is hell on Earth; a situation that reduces most men to animals and in the midst of that maelstrom this man is able to hone his spirituality and achieve something higher, in fact above war, above religion, above everything.”
Based on a true story, that “man of conviction” is Desmond T. Doss, played by Andrew Garfield who gives an inspiring performance as a bible-toting and self-described “conscientious cooperator” due to his steadfast religious beliefs against carrying a gun and taking a life. The dilemma he faces is the sin of killing versus fighting for his country. War doesn’t fit into that equation so instead he enlists as a medic where he’ll be “saving people and not killing them.”
Stationed at Fort Jackson he meets his barrack mates led by Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) who goes down the line screaming a nickname for each private within inches of their face. Doss is christened Private Cornstalk for his Virginian farm boy innocence. Vaughn who is not an obvious choice to play the tough guy did his homework to handle the gruffness of their staunch leader with a firm but guiding hand. He explained at the press conference, “Drill sergeants at their best you become a parent. They feel like your children and you’re responsible for their lives and take that very seriously. So underneath there’s a deep love but this urgency to keep them alive as well.”
A stand-out amongst the men in the barracks is Australian actor Luke Bracey as Smitty who provokes Doss to quit, along with lieutenants and majors who want him court-martialed because he refuses to carry a weapon — putting all their lives in danger.
Amidst the atrocities of war a love story blossoms between Doss and Dorothy Schutte, a nurse he meets when saving the life of a stranger hit by a car. Played by another wonderful Australian import Teresa Palmer, the chemistry between the actors is undeniable.
Gibson has assembled an outstanding cast of Australian actors including Sam Worthington as Captain Glover and Hugo Weaving as Tom Doss, who all excel under his superb direction.
In the lexicon of Gibson’s directing career Hacksaw Ridge is Brave Heart meets The Passion of The Christ. The film strikes the perfect balance between what heroism means and the courage it takes to stand by those convictions whether they are spiritual or moral. It is heartbreaking as Doss saves the men one by one repeating his personal prayer, “Help me get one more,” but it is also a sobering reminder that war is never the answer. It may be Gibson’s best film to date.