HACKSAW RIDGE (Australia | USA/16/139mins)
Directed by Mel Gibson. Starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving.
THE PLOT: Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) enlists into the army during World War II, even though he is, as he says, a “conscientious collaborator”. Doss will not pick up a weapon during his training, which almost gets him court marshalled, but when he is stationed to the Battle of Okinawa as a medic, his tenacity and strength mean that he accomplishes something truly incredible, and becomes the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honour.
THE VERDICT: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is Mel Gibson’s first film as a director since ‘Apocalypto’ in 2006, but fans of his style will be pleased to know that Gibson has retained his usual flair for depicting violent events unflinchingly, while telling a story about a most unusual man.
Andrew Garfield leads the cast as Desmond Doss, and although his accent veers a little toward Forrest Gump at times, Garfield makes Doss a charming and tenacious character. Other than his religious beliefs and his love for Dorothy (Teresa Palmer, we do not learn much about the character, but it is just enough for Garfield to make him the heart of the film. Vince Vaughn takes on a strange role as Sergeant Howell, and while he tries to make the character tough and imposing, it is hard to resist the urge to giggle, perhaps Vaughn is too adept at comedy to make this role truly work. Hugo Weaving makes Desmond’s father Tommy a damaged and vulnerable man, who covers his pain in violence and rage. It should come as no surprise that Weaving is tremendous, nuanced and subtle in this role, as is Rachel Griffiths in her smaller role as Doss’ mother. The rest of the cast features Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Richard Roxburgh and Milo Gibson.
Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight’s screenplay makes sure to underline the hardships that Doss went through before even getting to the battlefield in Okinawa, from a violent childhood to being constantly berated, mocked and beaten during his basic training. Although these story elements are necessary for the audience to understand the character, there are times when each new element of the story feels drawn out and overly long, and prevents the audience from truly engaging with the character on the screen. The dialogue in the film is fine, although nothing special, and the tension toward the end of the film is carefully built.
As director, Mel Gibson manages to give each of the characters their own charm, even the bullying sergeant and Doss’s alcoholic father get their moments of humanity and kindness, and the performances in the film are well crafted and carefully constructed. The film struggles through the first two acts, since they feel overly long, before getting to the savage, violent and gory battle in which Doss distinguished himself. Gibson seems to take pleasure in flinging body parts are gore at the screen, and showing the realities of combat front and centre, although the more squeamish in the audience may find these images nauseating and overly graphic. The story of ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is well told, although there are times when brevity could have made the film less of an ordeal to get through, and the manipulative soundtrack could have been dialled back a notch.
In all, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is the story of a remarkable man and the extraordinary feat of saving 75 wounded men from a violent battle, but less scattershot gore and a tighter edit could have turned ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ from a good film to a great one.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    In recent years, Mel Gibson has had offscreen troubles in his personal life. However, there’s no denying that he’s a talented actor and director. Last year’s Blood Father was a prime slab of classic, grizzled Gibson. Now he returns to the director’s chair for the first time in a decade with the heroic true story Hacksaw Ridge.

    Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) lives in rural Virginia with his caring mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) and abusive, drunken father Tom (Hugo Weaving). A childhood incident in which he seriously injured his brother during a fight left a mark on him though. The idea of hurting others no longer interests him. He’s more interested in healing others coming home from the bloody WWII battlefields. It’s at this point that he becomes drawn to nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), who he can’t take his eyes off. When the opportunity comes up to enlist in the army, he does so on the basis that he’ll be a field medic due to his religious reluctance to kill. However, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) have difficulty understanding Desmond’s reluctance to hold a firearm at any time. Desmond becomes a conscientious objector, much to the disgust of his unit including fellow soldier Smitty (Luke Bracey). But on Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, Desmond will have the chance to prove his own brand of bravery…

    Hacksaw Ridge is a welcome return for Gibson, possibly enough to convince even his naysayers. It ties in closely with his directorial work so far, in that it focuses on a clearly-defined individual and how the society around him responds to this individuality. The script, by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight, is quick to establish this early on by showing how bold and yet modest Desmond is when it comes to handling his father and his new love Dorothy. This first act set in the countryside is a touch cornball and romantically cliched, but it’s earnest and honest enough. The film picks up speed when it arrives at the army camp, as Desmond finds himself in a Full Metal Jacket-type situation where uniformity is encouraged more than individuality. Vaughn is both funny and unpredictable here as the unit sergeant, his best role in years.

    The film shifts up another gear as it moves towards the longer third act on Okinawa, as the unit prepares to scale a cliff and take Hacksaw Ridge from the Japanese defenders. This is the film’s signature sequence, a truly earth-shattering battle which will shock even the most devoted gore-hounds like this one. Hacksaw Ridge indeed. Soldiers explode and body parts fly through the air, bullets cut through bodies as if like butter and the wounded and dying are left to be picked off by the Japanese. Not for Doss though – he stays on, tending to his fallen comrades’ wounds and tries to rescue them. It’s this simple act of heroism in the face of imminent death that makes Desmond such a well-defined character. Between this film and Silence, Garfield is establishing himself as more than just the former Spider-Man.

    Well-shot and produced in Australia with a mostly local cast, Hacksaw Ridge is a thought-provoking film which prompts a discussion as to whether there’s more to being a soldier than just killing. When the real Desmond Doss appears towards the end of the film, it’s his simple and quietly powerful belief in himself and his ability to save lives, whether American or Japanese, that shines through. Gibson’s film is a powerful war film that isn’t anti-war – it’s anti-death. Highly recommended. ****

  • Clive Bower

    Really enjoyed this Mel Gibson made film, top drawer quality from start to finish – he really knows how to shoot and tell a good story. Really good visually on the big screen – check it out