Mel Gibson’s return to directing (and apparent return from Hollywood jail) is an unbelievable true story of faith, strength and morality in what would appear to be a landscape absent of these principles.
The film centres around Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector in WWII who enlists as a medic. During training, both his superiors and peers torment him relentlessly, attempting to force him to leave for his rejection of violence, even refusing to touch a gun. His resilience and faith in his beliefs pull him through and he eventually reaches the battlefield at Hacksaw Ridge. It is here the truly extraordinary extent of his character is shown; he alone saves 75 men, running back into danger every time, without any weapons.
The film is completely absorbing, especially once Doss enlists. The first act detailing Doss’ home life, and his romance with Teresa Palmer’s Dorothy, is sprinkled with a bit too much Hollywood cheese, feeling a little glazed over and shallow. However, it helps to paint the picture of Doss’ backstory, allowing the audience to understand the roots of his character and morals, as well as helping to humanise him, and show him less as an invincible heroic figure.
The training scenes are where the film really gets interesting (not that the romance wasn’t sweet). Doss’ principles are put to the test as all around him attempt to deter him from his goals. The scenes are often reminiscent of classic war films, and, of course, contain the mandatory ‘drill-sergeant-screaming-in-the-face-of-recruits’ scene. It is here that the reminders of older war films are a little detrimental as Vince Vaughn (who is excellent in the role in all other scenes) doesn’t quite have the presence to strike fear into the audience’s core. Yet, as a whole, it is involving and helps to set up the characters for the rest of the film.
When we reach Hacksaw Ridge, the film steps up several gears and becomes so gripping; you won’t be able to look away. Quick cuts and a graphic depiction of the battlefield fully transport you there, immersing you in the horrors. Over this act, the film becomes singularly focused on Doss’ mindset and pays true tribute to his incredible heroism. Had this not been based on a true story, it would be entirely unbelievable. Doss’ strength, faith and courage are so extraordinary; it really shows the power of one man and his beliefs.
Unfortunately, the film falls down in delving into the depths of Doss’ character. Little is spent exploring him beyond the obvious, and most of his character comes through Garfield’s terrific portrayal, who adds the depth to the character, as well as brings out the real emotion. The film is also sometimes a little heavy handed with its symbolism, but only occasionally.
The result is a great study of faith and the power of one man; a fitting tribute to a real hero.