An earnest, somewhat old fashioned WWII epic, “Hacksaw Ridge” is an extremely good film. While many may take issue with director Mel Gibson’s past indiscretions and even criticize the unabashed Christian inspirational underpinnings of the true story, such quibbles should be disregarded. This is an important movie that should be seen.
Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) was a unique guy. Raised by an alcoholic father, who served honorably in WWI, but returned emotionally damaged, Desmond’s upbringing helped make him a devout pacifist, but not the way you might think. While his father and brother both took up arms to defend their country, Desmond sought to serve as a medic who refused to carry a gun even on the field of battle.
Following Desmond from his youth, through basic training, and eventually onto the horrific battlefield in Okinawa, we come to understand the emotional decisions that motivated this man of conviction. The story is one of history—a Conscientious Objector is awarded the Medal of Honor without ever firing a shot.
Andrew Garfield is really perfect as the awkward Desmond, who is picked on and ridiculed even to the point of violence through basic training. But he manages to melt hearts through standing firm on his beliefs, even if those around him don’t share in those convictions. There are moments in this film that are emotionally gut wrenching and not all of these take place on the field of war.
The target of much criticism will be the casting of Vince Vaughn in the role of drill instructor Sergeant Howell. The gangly Vaughn channels his best R. Lee Erney, the actor who stunning portrayed the drill instructor in Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” Such comparison’s while inevitable are a bit unfair. Erney played his role largely in one dimension—sadistic mode. Vaughn, on the other hand, has moments when he is expected to relate to Desmond and even fight along side him in Okinawa during the film’s climatic sequences. This is where the casting works, and Vaughn overcomes the criticism.
The other discussion that has swirled around “Hacksaw Ridge” is Mel Gibson’s fall from grace following troubles with alcohol. Gibson may be a flawed person, but few can dispute his talent as a director. This is a film worthy of the Clint Eastwood canon. And after the likely critical and box office success of “Hacksaw Ridge,” the independently minded Gibson should have no problem finding financing for his next project.
Harrowing, well-acted, and remarkably all true, “Hacksaw Ridge” is a powerful film. It is also romantic in a surprising way as Doss and his true love Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) grapple with his convictions that puts a strain on their relationship. Those that scoff at the religious posturing and viewers who may be initially put off by the inspirational moniker need not be concerned, this is an old fashioned, yet, still modern and violent approach to exposing the horrors of war while celebrating the heroism that is on display.