To Mel Gibson and Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge is a shot at redemption. For Garfield, it’s to be taken seriously again after the failure of the Amazing Spider-Man films. For Gibson, well, it’s a lot more than that. Thankfully for Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge is a return to form for both actor and, despite his past actions, Gibson is still a good director.
The film’s biggest asset is the incredible feint that Gibson pulls. The first half serves to explain Desmond Doss’ (Andrew Garfield) pacifism (he can be a bit of an annoying sap at times), how he met his wife (Teresa Palmer), and his run-in with the higher-ups of the US Army. All these scenes, and the playing up of Doss’ religion, promise another toothless “inspirational” war drama.
Then, when the second half in Okinawa comes around, Hacksaw Ridge trips the audience up with some incredibly gory war. Since Doss is a medic, it’s appropriate for the film to show what the tools of war can do to the human body, and Gibson emphasises horror rather than excitement. The film instead elicits thrills through lifesaving rather than life-taking, which is certainly its most noble contribution.
Garfield plays the heroic Doss by playing up his boyish nature, and it works as a good contrast to his fellow grizzled soldiers. But the film’s MVP is definitely Hugo Weaving as Doss’ father, a deeply disturbed World War I veteran. It’s a small role that Weaving imbues with a desperate sadness, and a performance for which he deserves awards nominations.
Hacksaw Ridge will not be for everyone. However, the genuinely surprising gear-shift at Okinawa is a memorable feat of filmmaking. It might not go down in the pantheon of great war films, but as potential Oscar bait Hacksaw Ridge is bold and striking work.
CAST: Teresa Palmer, Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Luke Bracey
DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson
WRITERS: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan, Randall Wallace
SYNOPSIS: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.