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Review: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a major push to the awards front Special

Posted Nov 8, 2016 by Sarah Gopaul
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a powerful movie that takes as much care in portraying its heroic protagonist as it does the horrors of war.
Andrew Garfield stars in  Hacksaw Ridge
Andrew Garfield stars in 'Hacksaw Ridge'
Elevation Pictures
War movies are often laden with the connotation of being little more than patriotic propaganda. While they do strive to highlight the efforts and sacrifice of the men and women who died to protect their country, they also tend to have a “my country is the greatest” sentiment that can become a little tiresome. But then a movie comes along that truly is about the soldier(s) who gave their all to fight for what they believe is right. This year, that movie is Hacksaw Ridge.
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a young man with few aspirations beyond living a good life. The devout Seventh Day Adventist volunteers at the church where his mother (Rachel Griffiths) leads the choir and no longer pays much mind to his alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving). As the war begins to gear up, he meets a nurse (Teresa Palmer) at the local hospital and immediately falls head over heels for her. But not long into their relationship, Desmond enlists in the army because although he’s a conscientious objector he couldn’t live with himself if he wasn’t willing to make the same sacrifice as his friends and family. The catch is he refuses to carry a weapon and will contribute solely as a medic — saving lives, not taking them. This stance rubs a lot of his peers and superiors the wrong way, and training is made extra difficult for him. Yet when they stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the battlefield, he proves to be one of the bravest men to ever wear the uniform.
In spite of the brief glimpse of war with which the film opens, the movie is basically divided into two parts: the first half depicts Desmond’s life before the war and his stateside struggle to make it to the front. Before seeing any real action, he fights an uphill battle as all of his superiors insist he resign if he’s unwilling to pick up a gun. As much as they’re concerned he’ll get himself needlessly killed, the greater emphasis is placed on the lives of the men he’ll stand next to and their safety should he be the only thing standing between them and the enemy. Of course this theory is tested later as they clash in the trenches. The second half shows the war Desmond fought so hard to get to in all its mud-caked, bloody glory. It’s incredibly intense because it feels exceptionally realistic. The battle for Hacksaw Ridge is portrayed with such authenticity as every victory is met with an even stronger retaliation and the bodies (and in many cases body parts) continue to pile up.
The fact that Desmond is a likeable, upstanding young man is not overlooked. But nothing endears him to audiences and his fellow soldiers as much as the courage he shows on the battlefield. His actions are quite unbelievable, yet they’re confirmed via an interview with the real Desmond Doss shown in between the closing credits. Director Mel Gibson does an excellent job familiarizing viewers with the person before turning him into the invincible hero — knowing he’s just a man doing what he thinks is right causes his feats to hold even greater significance. The filmmaker also has an eye for staging dramatic action, taking audiences into the war via deliberate camera placement and gritty aesthetics.
The film rests on Garfield’s shoulders and he draws viewers into the story without ever missing a beat. He is very convincing, though it’s difficult to understand how someone of his (and the real Desmond’s) stature could accomplish all he did on that ridge. Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington each play Desmond’s military superiors. The former gets to yell and insult his pretend subordinates, giving his new recruits some amusing nicknames, while the latter has more of an authoritarian role, giving orders and trying to make the best possible decisions. All of the other young soldiers are also notable, as is Weaving who portrays Desmond’s pitiful father. Unfortunately even though the female characters have a significant role in Desmond’s outlook, their roles in the film are rather forgettable.
Gibson undoubtedly picked the right film with which to stage his comeback behind the camera. Paired with his role in the recent Blood Father, the beleaguered actor may be on the road back to his former success.
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn