Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but the alcoholic antisemite nutjob sure knows how to make awesome movies!

I was somewhat wary about his latest film, Hacksaw Ridge, the remarkable true story about a Christian conscientious objector who became a hero during World War II. Given Gibson’s religious leanings, I was concerned that he was going to push that aspect of the movie down my throat, but I guess I didn’t give him enough credit because Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most epic and inspiring war movies ever made. And it’s technically an Aussie film!

Former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a young man who felt obligated like so many in his hometown to join the US military and fight the Japanese during WWII. The problem is, he’s a devout Christian who not only refuses to kill but even refuses to carry a weapon. Obviously, if he were simply sent home at this point, Hacksaw Ridge wouldn’t be much of a movie. So you can kind of guess what happens next. And yet, the battle sequences, when they finally hit, are so impactful and devastating that I became totally immersed in the film, such that it didn’t matter if I knew what the story was about or what the outcome would be.

We all know Mel loves violence, and Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t hold back one bit. Bullets shredding bodies, exploding heads, flying limbs — the carnage actually wasn’t too far off from the over-the-top massacres in Rambo (2008), except here it felt terrifyingly real. Well-developed characters you care about and good acting can make all the difference.

Garfield is really, really good as Doss, and I wouldn’t be upset if he snags one of the five Best Actor spots at the Oscars this year (he also could for Silence, though I haven’t seen it yet). It could have been easy for Doss to come across as too self-righteous and obtuse, but Garfield’s performance makes him a protagonist you want to root for. The rest of the cast is fantastic too, including Doss’s abuse, alcoholic father played by Hugo Weaving and mother played by Rachel Griffiths. Teresa Palmer puts in one of her better performances as the love interest, while Luke Bracey and Sam Worthington — two guys who haven’t been great leading men but have been solid supporting actors — are as good as they have ever been as soldiers in Doss’s unit. Vince Vaughn rounds off the stellar cast with also one of his best performances in years as their wise-cracking sergeant, providing the bulk of the film’s humour without at all coming across as jarring or out of place.

Hacksaw Ridge a brutal, harrowing film about the horrors of war, but also an uplifting one about faith and sticking to what you believe in and who you are. You really don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy this movie or be moved by it. You can actually even hate Christianity but love this movie because the themes are universal. Inspiring is inspiring, and a great movie is a great movie.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Apparently the film is pretty accurate too. Some timelines are shifted or stretched, but the core facts are verifiable.

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