Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge

In Theatres: 
Nov 04, 2016
Running Time: 
131 minutes

Many war films glorify the battlefield, depicting soldiers as these nearly impervious superheroes who emerge from combat unscathed save for a few scratches. Hacksaw Ridge is not that kind of film. It’s a brutal and honest depiction of war with a true hero at the forefront. One who has all the qualities of a superhero, but all the vulnerabilities of a man.


Desmond T. Doss is no fictional character. He’s a real life Army veteran who fought in World War II as a conscientious objector, serving as a medic on the battlefield without a weapon to protect himself. He also single-handedly saved over 75 of his comrades while under enemy fire during the Battle of Okinawa. He’s the true definition of a hero, and Andrew Garfield does a phenomenal job playing him in Hacksaw Ridge.


The film’s opening third focuses on Desmond’s life before joining the Army. Growing up he constantly fought with his brother, Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic), and his drunk and abusive father, Tom (Hugo Weaving). That all changed when he almost shot his father for beating his mother, and he vowed to never pick up a weapon again. Then the war came. While Desmond opposed taking a life, he still believed that he could help serve his country as a medic. Unfortunately, others did not hold that same belief.


Hacksaw Ridge does an excellent job at establishing these characters and their motives. It doesn’t simply throw you into the midst of the battlefield. Desmond has a pretty decent life at home, all things considered. He even meets the lovely Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) and the two develop a deep romance. It makes his decision to join the Army all the more impactful because of everything he’s giving up. Despite his own flaws, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see Tom’s reaction when he see’s that both his son’s have joined, as he himself lost all his friends on the battlefield. He’s seen what it does firsthand and doesn’t want his children to go through what he did.


It’s at this point that Hacksaw Ridge looks to Full Metal Jacket for inspiration. Vince Vaughn plays Sergeant Howell, a R. Lee Ermey type drill sergeant who berates everyone into becoming better soldiers. It’s an adjustment to see Vaughn, whose most notable for his comedies, as such an authority figure. He’s not as intimidating as a drill sergeant needs to be as many of his lines still come off as funny. Regardless, the boot camp scenes are some of the more entertaining and pleasant moments of the film. It’s here where Doss’s values and refusal to pick up a weapon are also put to the test.


What sticks with you once you leave the theater, however, is the final third of the film. Private Doss and his company are sent to Hacksaw Ridge at the Battle of Okinawa, a deadly precipice where multiple companies have already fallen to Japanese soldiers. It’s essentially a death sentence, and the film doesn’t shy away from depicting that. Bullets, bombs, and every other method of death comes full force at the soldiers, and they die in a quick and brutal fashion. There are no glamour shots or fancy camera work that masks what happens. We see it all, and it’s more than enough to make you sick to your stomach as you question the nature of war itself.


Amidst all the chaos is Doss, who tends to the wounded as much as he can. What’s more amazing is that he’s doing this all without a weapon. He’s constantly telling himself, “just one more” and by the time all is said and done he’s saved over 75 soldiers on the battlefield. It’s impressive as much as it is awe-inspiring.


Hacksaw Ridge is to Okinawa what Saving Private Ryan is to the Invasion of Normandy. Director Mel Gibson does a fantastic job at capturing the devastating nature of war and showing just how big an impact a single person can have. He doesn’t glorify it. He makes you question it. It’s been a decade since we last saw Gibson in the director’s chair, and it’s great to see him return to form. Here’s hoping it won’t be another 10 years before we see him again.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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