'Hacksaw Ridge' is an unrelenting, brutal account of the taking of Hacksaw Ridge during WW2 and the monumental effort of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor for service above and beyond the call of duty. Directed by Mel Gibson, the film stars Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving and Vince Vaughn.
We are introduced to Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) as a violent kid, who almost kills his little brother with a brick to the head during a fight. This incident, along with his mother’s strong Christian beliefs, firmly ingrains his strict belief of the sixth commandment. 15 years later pacifist Doss joins the army as a medic to save lives in WW2. Branded a coward by his unit as he won’t bear arms, they approach the battle for Hacksaw Ridge. It is here where Doss’ faith and convictions are truly put to the test.
The entire cast is brilliant. From Vaughn’s Sergeant Howell - a hard ass with a heart, to Luke Pegler’s Hollywood - who has an affinity for nakedness and brings some levity to the film, to Luke Bracey’s Smitty - who turns from antagonist to best mate; every single one of Doss’ fellow soldiers were memorable. Teresa Palmer is great as Doss’ girlfriend and wife, but I want to give a special mention to Hugo Weaving, who plays Doss’ father. His portrayal of a WW1 veteran, who has lost every single friend he ever had in battle, broken by what he has endured, wowed me and made me tear up at the same time. There is a scene in the film, where his youngest son comes to the dinner table in uniform and Weaving gives this haunting speech, and I will forever remember his lower lip trembling uncontrollably before he could form the words and speak. It was subtle, yet powerful. Everyone is talking about Garfield’s performance, and it is brilliant, but Weaving is right up there with him.
With the soldiers ready, naval artillery ploughs the battlefield and everyone in the audience is right there with them, feeling every single shot. The soldiers advance quietly, someone screams, and all hell breaks loose. The noise is deafening, the chaos complete. Everyone is staring at the screen in utter disbelief as to the carnage we are seeing. Gibson doesn’t hold back. War is brutal. War is chaotic. War is death. The cinematography is stunning. Intimate and grandiose in equal measure, finding the beautiful moments amongst chaos and destruction. We see numerous people mowed down within seconds by bullets we didn’t even see, but hear. It is an assault on the senses. Overpowering. The sound design is phenomenal. Explosions shake your body. You hear bullets whistling past. You hear them impact, FEEL them impact. You hear, before you see, someone step on a decomposed body. The squishy sound making you nauseous now that you know what it is. This film is a disgusting experience of the horrors of war. In all its gutsy, gritty, brutal and chaotic splendour.
But overall it is a film about faith and principles. We see Doss endure hardship due to his beliefs, but he soldiers on. We witness him stumble, lose faith upon a friends’ death. He is lost without his faith and only the cry for a “medic” snaps him out of it. Fuelled by his reaffirmed faith he runs into the thickest chaos to help others, with no regard for his own life.
'Hacksaw Ridge' is tough to put into words and truly do it justice. You have to experience it. An anti-war film with a pacifist message. A tale of faith, determination and sacrifice. No matter what you think of Gibson as a person or an actor, he is a magnificent storyteller. I have seen this film twice in one day and it was just as gripping the second time around. If that doesn't tell you what an exceptional piece of storytelling this is I don’t know what else to say. A powerhouse of a film. An utterly brilliant masterpiece.
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