Hacksaw Ridge is a kind of old-fashioned Hollywood war epic that’s as earnest as it is raw. Veteran filmmaker and former superstar Mel Gibson, one of the best directors at what he does, wrestles a terrific true story of faith, conviction, and courage against a terrifying backdrop of multifaceted opposition during WWII.
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a young pacifist growing up in a rural town, enlists in the American Army as a field medic. When he joins under the impression that he can assist the wounded whilst never having to touch a weapon, he soon finds that his superiors and his comrades reject his ideals. Doss wants to serve his country, but he refuses to kill another human being. His conviction is so strong that he resists even touching a gun. The commanding officers want Doss out of the army, but he remains determined to withstand their contention.
Gibson has always injected his work with struggles of religious faith and intense violent conflict (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto). Hacksaw Ridge is no exception, and is every bit as much of an achievement for him as his previous directorial efforts. He has found a perfect balance for the real-life hero, Desmond, whose plight at first feels unconvincing, even outlandish considering the circumstances of combat. But eventually he wins us over. Andrew Garfield, a gifted actor who has shined in both The Social Network and The Amazing Spider-Man, gives a gentle, determined performance here. Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington also deliver impressive performances as the officers of the platoon that first oppose Desmond, but eventually owe their lives to him.
After the first half of the film builds up Doss’s conflict with his own fellow men, the battle atop Hacksaw Ridge begins. Gibson doesn’t handle the staging of this fight so much as he bludgeons the screen with it. It’s a brutal, bloody, carnage-riddled recreation of a horrific event. But Gibson’s taste in material won’t confuse the viewer into thinking he’s dabbling in exploiting the attack. He merely reveals the graphic nature of it. Garfield runs around dodging the hellfire to patch up the wounded and get them off the cliff alive. Garfield handles Gibson’s chaotic battleground like a pro. When he ultimately [POTENTIAL SPOILER] saves 75 men, you believe Garfield’s every straining breath.
Hacksaw Ridge is a commanding film with all the heart of Saving Private Ryan, and believe me when I say, it’s every bit as good. After a few days of reflection I can’t get the movie out of my mind. Gibson has given us certainly one of the best films of the year and one of the best of his career. It’s a moving tribute to an American hero and a passionately well-executed motion picture.