‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Review
You can count on two things heading into a Mel Gibson film: unflinching violence and an underdog as the protagonist. Hacksaw Ridge has both as the story of Desmond Doss might be the most underdog tale in history.
Doss wanted to serve like any other young man following the attack on Pearl Harbor. But unlike any other man, he wanted to save lives instead of taking them by enlisting as a combat medic. As a Seventh-day Adventist, Doss would not touch a gun or work on the Sabbath. Those were his conditions. The army did not agree.
The skinny kid from Lynchburg, Virginia was subjected to abuse and harassment from his fellow soldiers. His commanding officer, Capt. Jack Glover, tried to get him transferred and there was a possibility of a court martial.
But a 1940 law allowed conscientious objectors to serve the war effort in “noncombatant” positions, so Doss used the obscure law to serve. In the spring of 1945, Doss’ company traveled to Okinawa where they were faced with the grueling task of climbing a steep cliff called Hacksaw Ridge to face thousands of heavily armed Japanese soldiers.
In a 12-hour period following the first wave, Doss saved 75 men, including Capt. Glover, by staying on top of the ridge when his fellow soldiers retreated to rest for the night. He did this by carrying the wounded one-by-one to the edge of the ridge and rigging a pulley system to lower them to the ground. After each successful trip, he would say, “Lord, please let me get one more.”
But rather than throwing us right into battle, Gibson starts at the beginning of Doss’ life as a young boy living on a farm with his brother and parents. On the surface it seems like a classic American family. But underneath reveals fractured relationships as the father, played by Hugo Weaving, deals with PTSD following WWI. Like so many men from that generation, he turns to the bottle to numb the pain. Undeterred, young Desmond turns to faith to guide him through life.
Gibson makes a conscience choice to start the film as a throwback to the films of the ’50s. Presented in a sheen of earnestness, Hacksaw Ridge looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Andrew Garfield stars and he walks a fine line in his portrayal of Doss as being an aw shucks kid full of life who’s also naive about the world beyond Virginia.
His budding romance with a young nurse, played by Teresa Palmer, is sweet and innocent and a great representation not only of an idealistic time when young people wanted to fall in love, but as an origin of the baby boom generation.
These scenes are necessary because they represent what every young man is fighting for in war. But they seemed to drag the film down a bit. Once he goes off to war however, the film really kicks in.
Sam Worthington plays Capt. Glover in a supporting role that best suits the actor who was once dubbed as the next big thing. Luke Bracy shines as a fellow soldier skeptical of Doss’ motivations. His performance made me forget about his starring role in the dreadful Point Break remake.
Rounding out the cast is Vince Vaughn who absolutely shines as a drill sergeant. He’s tough, but incapable of escaping that witty charm we’ve grown to love. His introduction in the film might in fact be the best scene I’ve seen all year.
Once the film moves to the battlefield, Gibson’s signature visceral style kicks in. The battle scenes are thrilling, haunting and perhaps the most unnerving we’ve seen on film since Saving Private Ryan. War is hell and Gibson makes sure you know it.
Working with a modest $40 million budget, Gibson can’t quite show the scope he’s looking for in such an amazing story. But this forces him to be more creative and efficient. The true story is grand, but he makes it more intimate and in-the-moment.
At a time when superhero movies rule the Hollywood landscape, it’s refreshing to get a film that tells the true story of a real hero. Someone who lived and breathed and was the genuine article.
Despite the time period in which it is set, Hacksaw Ridge tackles themes we are dealing with today such as patriotism, faith and discrimination. Living in this country shouldn’t be this volatile in an election year and Mel GIbson of all people delivers a film that reminds us of what it means to be an American.Advertise your business on Eugene Daily News!