DIR: Mel Gibson • WRI: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight • PRO: Terry Benedict, Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, William D. Johnson, Bill Mechanic, David Permut • DOP: Simon Duggan • ED: John Gilbert • DES: Barry Robison • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey
Based on the true story of the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honour, Hacksaw Ridge tells the tale of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a young man whose religious beliefs preclude him from carrying or using a weapon. The story starts with Desmond as a young child, watched over by his father Tom (Hugo Weaving) – who drinks heavily and suffers terribly from his time in the First World War – and long-suffering religious mother, Bertha (Rachel Griffiths). One pivotal day while play-fighting with his brother, things take a turn for the worse and he almost kills him with a brick. The incident has a lasting effect on Desmond, who becomes a pacifist and devout Seventh-day Adventist, following in the footsteps of his mother. Later in life he meets beautiful nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), falling in love just before enlisting in the army as a pacifist combat medic. His religious beliefs come under immediate fire from the establishment, including by Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), and his fellow soldiers – who struggle to understand the apparent stupidity of someone who would walk onto a battlefield unarmed. After lengthy legal issues, he is assigned to the 77th Infantry Division and shipped off to Okinawa, where he and his compatriots are sent to overtake the notorious Hacksaw Ridge. Proving his worth beyond anyone’s expectations, Doss proceeds to show his bravery as he willingly enters the inferno time and again, without a weapon to defend himself.
Directed by Mel Gibson, who was approached in the early 2000’s to helm the film but resisted for almost a decade, Hacksaw Ridge would seem to fit perfectly into the director’s penchant for blending violence and religion in a palatable manner. Paying respect to a real-life person, as well as wallowing in the usual heavily-patriotic wartime portrayals of soldiers, can sometimes leave a real-life biopic to come across as pandering and lacking in real insight. However, Hacksaw Ridge manages to rise above the rest in this – with a pleasantly gawky and likeable Garfield holding the reins on giving a gangly cornstalk from Lynchburg, Virginia the humanity and relatability necessary for such an unbelievable character. The fascinating thing, of course, is that the most unbelievable stories are quite often the true ones – as is the case with Desmond Doss. His fellow soldiers offer a veritable who’s-who of stereotypical 1940s Americana – with nicknames like Tex and Hollywood – but the jingoism is quickly replaced by blood, guts and reality as these boys rush headlong into war in scenes of startling veracity and brutality. Gibson’s battlefields are epic, as always, and these scenes – though a long time coming in the film – hammer home the bravery of this real life participant in a vicious war. Biopics can suffer from too much reverence, and Doss is certainly portrayed minus any blemishes or warts – but somehow, with the underlying truth of his bravery to sustain it, the representation doesn’t come across as sickly or painfully naff.
While the film suffers from some heavy-handed 1940s stereotypes, cheesy setups, and an overuse of slow-mo, the immersive and visceral battle scenes more than make up for any early descents into mawkishness. The truth is stranger than fiction, as Doss’s wartime heroics really have to be seen to be believed, and the story carries itself forward in fascinating style – holding the attention until the last. Flawed, but entertaining, Hacksaw Ridge celebrates a pacifist in a time when killing was currency, and is a welcome reminder of the brutality of the battlefield in our own modern times, when war is fought at the push of a button.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Hacksaw Ridge is released 27th January 2017