Director: Mel Gibson
Running Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes
"Hacksaw Ridge" is directed by Mel Gibson, who has been a controversial figure in recent years due to some very public personal issues. Before all of that, he had directed such films as the Academy Award winning "Braveheart" and the highest grossing R rated film of all time domestically in "The Passion of the Christ." This movie stars Andrew Garfield as Private Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh Day Adventist who took to heart God's commandment that thou shall not kill. He never attempts to compromise or rationalize that statement and takes it as literal. When he first joins the Army and goes through basic training, he is dubbed a coward by his fellow soldiers and is considered insane by his commanding officer Captain Glover, played by Sam Worthington, due to his refusal to pick up a rifle even during the most perilous of wars. At one point, Doss even gets court-martialled for disobeying a direct order, again, never compromising his beliefs. He is eventually allowed to "go into the hell fire of battle without a single weapon to protect" himself. Also in the film are Teresa Palmer, who plays Doss's love interest Dorothy Schutte, Hugo Weaving as Doss's abusive alcoholic father Tom, Rachel Griffiths as Doss's loving mother Bertha, Vince Vaughn as the ball-busting Sergeant Howell, and Luke Bracey giving one of the best performances of his young career as Private 'Idiot' Smitty Ryker.
If we know one thing from Gibson's past works, it's that word "restraint" is not in his vocabulary. This does not change with "Hacksaw Ridge." It is an ultra-violent, gore-filled display of carnage and war. To paint a picture for you: there is a moment where a soldier takes a bullet to the back of his head and his face literally comes off as the bullet exits and it hits another soldier in the face. Though the first two portions of the film are relatively safe in terms of being bloody and gross, this changes in the last portion of the film, once Doss and his unit arrive at Hacksaw Ridge itself. After climbing up the arduous ropes to the top of the cliff, the soldiers walk over intestines that have spilled out of their fellow fallen soldiers, which cover the ground as rats and maggots feed on rotting corpses in graphic detail. Though we do believe Gibson has a point in putting this level of bloodshed on display, it is still hard to watch at times and can be a bit excessive. Though gratuitous, we can't help but imagine these very long sequences are mostly accurate in their depiction of battle. Amidst all of the destruction, Gibson frames his shots in an artful and gorgeous manner. Lord knows he knows what he's doing behind the camera.
Andrew Garfield has been on our radar more recently as of late. After "99 Homes" last year, we found ourselves realizing the true greatness of his acting abilities. Garfield is stunningly excellent as Desmond Doss. As a man who stays true to his convictions, Garfield sells the part as this faithful conscientious objector in an award-worthy performance. In fact, the entire cast comes together to comprise a stellar ensemble. Though BigJ didn't quite believe Vince Vaughn in the role of Doss's sergeant, I personally enjoyed his performance, which managed to be slightly humorous even in the darkest of times, and even though he spends the majority of the movie yelling at those he is training. Hugo Weaving gives an impassioned performance as Desmond's alcoholic and abusive father, a former World War I veteran haunted by the demons he saw in battle. Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, and the aforementioned Luke Bracey are all actually quite impressive in their performances as well.
Many war movies look to glorify the battle, leaving you with a sense of pride and wanting to chant "USA! USA! USA!," but that's not how we felt leaving this film. It's true that Private Doss's actions, saving about 75 injured soldiers without ever firing a bullet, are truly heroic and utterly amazing. However, we left "Hacksaw Ridge" with a feeling of having seen on full display the true horrors of war and what little glory there actually is to it. It is a horrific practice and we left hoping we as a world would never, ever want to send our young men and women into something like that ever again unless it is absolutely necessary. It is good to show that heroics aren't about how many lives you take, but how many lives you save. Gibson does a spectacular job after a long layoff from directing crafting this important but horrific film. Its message is one that is relevant today, even as we type this review.
My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!