Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s biographical World War II drama film starring Andrew Garfield as battlefield medic and conscientious objector Desmond Doss who refused to carry a weapon during the World War II Battle of Okinawa.
The first half of the film follows Doss as he joins the army against the wishes of his father Tom Doss, a World War I veteran who is bitter over how he was treated and the fact he lost many of his friends during the war. It also covers how his commanding officers tried to hound him out of the army, and determination to stick to his principles of non-violence and pacifism. The whole point of this first half is to really establish Doss’ motivations and so we can understand why he won’t pick up arms. The problem is that as a viewer I understood that fairly early on. It almost turns into a sermon. More time during the training could be spent giving the other soldiers more discernable characters, whereas they all blended into one after they are initially introduced.
However when the film gets into the battle sequences that’s where it really impresses. Mel Gibson obviously has experience making great battle sequences, Braveheart is still one of my all time favourite war films, and they are so incredible here in Hacksaw Ridge. They do a great job of capturing the utter carnage and brutality of war. When it gets into the meat of Doss’ story, as he proceeds to stay behind after the American retreat in an attempt to rescue as many wounded soldiers as possible. This is really moving, and at times tense, filmmaking. The battle sequences absolutely showcase Gibson at his best as a director, even if the first half isn’t as strong.
Andrew Garfield in the lead role gives a good performance, although I thought his turn in Silence was more deserving of the Academy Award nomination. I think that Hugo Weaving as his alcoholic and bitter father steals every scene that he’s in. He brings a quiet sadness to the character beneath the brash and aggressive exterior. Sam Worthington also impresses as the captain of Doss’ unit. But Vince Vaughn’s sergeant didn’t work for me at all. It just felt like a bad parody of previous drill sergeants in war films of the past, such as R. Lee Emery’s in Full Metal Jacket. It also added a weird humour that didn’t fit the tone of the film. None of the other soldiers in the army really stand out at all, but that’s a fault with the storytelling and their lack of time to develop during the first half, rather than their performances.
Hacksaw Ridge’s battle sequences are truly staggering, some of the performances are fantastic, and the true story is very moving. It’s a real shame that the first half of the film feels slow and repetitive. But once you get through that and the film moves to Japan it is such a gripping experience.