Hacksaw Ridge is the kind of war movie that captures our attention with its message of anti-violence in the midst of violent battle. For all its gore and brutality, this true story about a WWII medal-of-honor-winner that never once fired a shot ranks among the finest films that Mel Gibson has ever directed. Desmond Doss (played flawlessly by Andrew Garfield) plays a conscientious objector and Seventh Day Adventist who refuses to carry a gun. He enlists and is sent to serve as a medic on the island of Okinawa.
The time is 1945, and the island has been the scene of some of the bloodiest battles ever fought during the war. One after one, soldiers fall wounded on Hacksaw Ridge, their nickname for a steep cliff and little piece of Hell officially known as the Maeda Escarpment. For hours after Doss’s battalion got the order to retreat, he ran repeatedly (some say as much as 100 times) into heavy artillery and machine gun fire, to rescue wounded soldiers clinging to the cliff edge, and singlehandedly managed to lower them down the cliffside to safety.
Director Mel Gibson has redeemed himself to many with this film, his first since Apocalypto in 2006, when he found himself embroiled in a scandal of his own making – a profanity-filled racist diatribe against a former girlfriend that was taped and leaked to the world. Gibson has struggled with the fallout from this event for over a decade, but has soldiered on and produced an epic masterpiece with this film.
Gibson’s forte has always been portraying violent combat, and he outdoes himself in Hacksaw Ridge. There is plenty of violence and breathtaking excitement in this film, made much more compelling because the hero is a conscientious objector and a pacifist. Andrew Garfield doesn’t stand alone in the spotlight, however. Doss’s drill sergeant, Sergeant Howell, is masterfully played by Vince Vaughn. That’s right – the actor known for comedic parts in Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers. Vaughn’s performance here combines a razor-sharp wit with a side of tough guy, and he carries it off magnificently.
Australian Sam Worthington (Avatar) turns in a convincing role as Captain Glover, a no-nonsense man who does everything in his power to get rid of Doss, and of course fails, faced with Doss’s acts of extreme bravery. Hugo Weaving, perhaps best known for his roles in Lord of the Rings and the Matrix, hands in a creditable role as Tom Doss, Desmond’s father. Welcome also to Milo Gibson, Mel’s son, who has a small but interesting role as Lucky Ford. We must include Teresa Palmer (Dorothy Schutte), who excels as one of very few women among Hacksaw Ridge’s primarily male cast.
Hacksaw Ridge received 6 nominations at the 2017 Oscars. It won two Oscars, one for Film Editing (John Gilbert) and another for Best Sound Mixing (Kevin O’Connell, Robert Mackenzie, Peter Grace, and Andy Wright). If you like true war stories that don’t mince on graphic, gritty realism, don’t miss Hacksaw Ridge.