Continuing with my theme this year of reviewing the film and not the scandal, allow me to introduce you to Hacksaw Ridge, the latest battle-laden epic from director Mel Gibson. Through his work in Braveheart and Apocalypto, Gibson has more than proven himself to be one of the great directors of large-scale battle sequences working today, and Hacksaw Ridge continues this streak, backed by arguably his strongest story of wartime conflict—in this case, World War II’s fierce and bloody Battle of Okinawa, Japan. The focal point of the story is Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a scrawny young man who wanted desperately to serve his country but his religious beliefs forbid him from taking a life or even holding a weapon.
I’m sure we all have loose definitions of what constitutes “heroism” and “cowardice” in the context of war, but Doss’s service is likely going to challenge everything you think you understand about these two words. Doss envisioned himself working as an Army medic, but while he was in boot camp, he was bullied and ridiculed by his peers and commanding officers alike. Strong performances by Sam Worthington as his captain and Vince Vaughn as his drill sergeant show a great combination of caring about the lives of the men under their command and simply wanting Doss to fall in line and stop making their lives difficult.
Working from a solid script from writers Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, Gibson paints a portrait of Doss’ life that explains beautifully his stance as a conscientious objector. His father (Hugo Weaving) returned from World War I suffering greatly from PTSD, and as a result got violent with the family with his gun. Doss also has a fiancé (Teresa Palmer) to come home to, as do many of the men in his company, but he has also promised her not to take up arms. His stance begs the question: If he’s not going to fight, what can he do? And that’s what the second half of Hacksaw Ridge covers.
I can’t recall in recent memory a war film (more specifically, an anti-war film) that seemed to celebrate graphic violence the way this film does. Certainly, Saving Private Ryan was gruesome enough, but Hacksaw Ridge is almost pornographic and takes it into the stratosphere. For those who have seen Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, this might not be the biggest surprise. Even still, the clarity of the blood and guts will likely shock people who are used to their WWII epics a little more clean and polished. But by embracing the viscera, Gibson is making it clear that nothing about the battles of the Great War was great. Consider this a warning but not a criticism; it’s a bold choice that I applaud.
Gibson’s mixing of messages regarding faith and the horrors of war may confuse people on paper, but when you see what Doss accomplishes at Okinawa, it’s difficult to grasp or think it could have possibly happened that way, and it’s impossible. But this is a true-life story and Doss stuck to his convictions and saved dozens of men that would have otherwise perished. Hacksaw Ridge is certainly not for everybody, but I found it absolutely captivating, thought provoking, sometimes morally off kilter, but never compromised. If you can stomach the gore, you’re in for one jaw-dropping experience.
To read my exclusive interview with Hacksaw Ridge actor Vince Vaughn, go to Ain’t It Cool News.