Faith and violence actually do mix in the latest film by director Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge. Throw in love, drama and even some comedy, Hacksaw Ridge combines everything to make a beautiful, well rounded compelling war film.
Hacksaw Ridge does not hold back on anything that it brings to viewers. This film delivers on so many levels, such as the story, the effects, the performances and the brutality of war. To incorporate all of these aspects together and not have a mess of a film is quite the accomplishment and director Mel Gibson makes it look so easy. He captures both the happy and bad times before war and then the sheer terror that war eventually brings, and he ensures Hacksaw Ridge will be known as one of the best war movies of recent memory.
Hacksaw Ridge begins with a small look into the war and what is happening with our main character Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield). This takes us back to the beginning of Doss’s early childhood where we get a very brief picture of how his life was and leading up to why he believes the way he does. Doss, coming from an abusive father and strict upbringing, decides to not use any violence in a promise to God. These beliefs become very troublesome for Doss as we learn later on. Before being sent off to Basic Training, Doss meets the love of his life, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). This sequence moves quickly, which some may not like, but it works in this situation. Garfield and Palmer do so well portraying the happiness and love of their relationship. This makes the audience fall in love with them thanks to their stunning acting.
After the disapproval from his father to enlist in the war, Doss heads off to Basic Training. Here, we learn that Doss refuses to fire a rifle, let alone touch one. All of Doss’s fellow infantry soldiers are skeptical of his beliefs, to the point of bullying him, beating him up and trying to break Doss. In spite of all the adversity Doss faced, he held true to what he stood for. That nothing will change him from doing so. As mentioned before this leads to a lot of issues with his higher ups Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington). Howell and Glover conspire to break Doss as well, for they don’t want someone that won’t fire a gun by them on the battlefield. Their actions result in futility as nothing continues to change Doss. Eventually, Doss is threatened with military prison for disobeying his commanding officers.
How many would act in the same way in Doss’s shoes? The idea of standing up for what you believe in is such an inspirational message and why Hacksaw Ridge succeeds. Many would just accept their fate, pick up the rifle or accept the discharge and go home. Not for Doss, those were not options. He had the right of anyone else to be there and serve his country. In the face of impossible odds, we see an impressive portrayal of one man who risked it all to keep his beliefs. Doss is told that he is free to enter the battlefield with no rifle by his side, and act as a medic. In the overwhelming fear of war, Doss ends up saving the lives of 75 soldiers without firing a single bullet. His actions will earn him the congressional Medal of Honor and become a hero.
Mel Gibson has brought us incredible films in the past, such as Apocalypto and Braveheart. It’s safe to say that Mel Gibson has rarely made a bad film, and Hacksaw Ridge is no exception. Gibson captures scenes so majestically yet bluntly, that it is hard to not grasp the emotions Doss is feeling and what is going on in his mind. The audience can identify and feel for Doss in a way that sometimes other films have a hard time producing. Hacksaw Ridge is full of these moments where Gibson’s vision and intent are easily identifiable. As a result, Hacksaw Ridge is a pleasure to watch and experience.
Not many films can capture and portray the brutality of war the way Hacksaw Ridge does. Mel Gibson takes his time leading up to the battle, spending the first half of the film setting the stage. Yet, as soon as that first bullet fires, it is one of the most intense, gruesome and action packed sequences we have on film. The action moves fast, the blood is spurting, body parts are flying and bodies are everywhere. Sometimes in pieces, sometimes not. There is no holding back here and we know that to be the case with Gibson. He does a fantastic job of capturing the terror of war while still keeping it easy to follow. There is no sugar coating of the war here, the audience feels and experiences every moment of the horror during these sequences.
The performances of the entire cast are phenomenal. They all do such a great job as their character that it is hard to find any major flaws. Vince Vaughn instantly brings a perfect combination of serious and funny from the first second he appears on screen. Sam Worthington does fine work as a strict, fierce Captain that eventually turns humble. Andrew Garfield delivers one of the best performances of the year, if not the best so far. He really makes you feel for Doss and what he went through before and during the war. When facing adversity, you sympathized with Doss. When the Japanese were on the verge of finding him on the battlefield, you feared for him. It would be shocking to not see his name as a nominee for film awards.
A positive point to address is the editing of Hacksaw Ridge. As mentioned earlier, the action sequences were stitched so well together as to not lose the audience amidst all the chaos of war. Future action movies, take note here, you do not need shaky cam to make a realistic action sequence. There is not one shot of shaky footage to be found, considering the bombing and explosions that war brings. For this reason, Hacksaw Ridge gets a plus for its exceptional editing and delivery.
With powerful performances, an inspirational message and brutal action, Hacksaw Ridge is a beautiful film that brings all of these aspects together with ease. With only minor nitpicks, not a lot can negatively be said about Hacksaw Ridge and should definitely be on your radar of movies to see this year.