Blu-ray Review: Hacksaw Ridge
By John Corrado
★★★ (out of 4)
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was an army medic from Virginia, who enlisted in World War II on the condition that he wouldn’t have to carry a rifle or take any lives. Despite initially facing accusations of cowardice from his fellow soldiers, and the threat of being court marshalled, he become the only conscientious objector to earn the Congressional Medal of Honour.
Supporting the war while holding steadfast to his beliefs that killing is wrong, and propelled by his unwavering faith in God, Desmond Doss was able to save the lives of 75 wounded soldiers, fearlessly rescuing them from the throes of battle and bringing them to safety.
This incredible true story is told in Hacksaw Ridge, a good old fashioned war movie that strikes an inspiring tone, despite the brutal authenticity of its extended battle scenes. The first half of the film largely focuses on Desmond’s life back home in Virginia, where he is courting a young nurse (Teresa Palmer), whom he has to leave behind to go to war. The second half focuses on his deployment to Okinawa where they are trying to overtake Hacksaw Ridge from the Japanese, in what turned out to be one of the most gruesome battles of the war, and it’s here that his heroics are put on display.
Nominated for six Oscars, Hacksaw Ridge also offers a comeback story for director Mel Gibson, who is still seeking atonement in Hollywood for his past sins. The film shows off his true prowess behind the camera, crafting a solid character drama that is bolstered by technically proficient battle sequences that are the stuff of nightmares. Pulled off with mostly in-camera practical effects, the scenes of war are some of the most realistic ever put on screen, exploding with harrowing images of men being ravaged by bullets, explosions and flames.
The film never shies away from showing the grotesqueries of war, and the visceral battle scenes become almost numbing in their brutal depictions of violence, with bodies being exploded apart and ample blood spurting out. It’s hard to watch, and some have argued that Mel Gibson’s approach to the material borders on exploiting this violence, but the film serves to depict the realities and ugliness of war and how they stand in sharp contrast to the protagonist’s heroic refusal to take part in the killing.
Desmond is a man of deep faith who never backs down from his own principles, a quiet man who refuses to carry weapons due to his beliefs, and at times seems equally worried about what might happen if he does pick one up. Andrew Garfield delivers a fiercely committed performance in the role, bringing subtle nuance to his portrayal of this fascinating real life subject. The actor is backed up by a solid supporting cast, including excellent work by Hugo Weaving as his alcoholic, PTSD-stricken WWI veteran father, Luke Bracey as a fellow soldier who initially doubts his bravery, as well as Sam Worthington as the captain and Vince Vaughn as the drill sergeant.
Although Hacksaw Ridge is at times an overwhelming experience to watch, the film strikes a good balance between the more sentimental scenes at home and the brutality of the battle sequences to offer a compelling war movie that functions as a well rounded portrait of its fascinating hero. Desmond Doss’s story is ultimately an inspiring one, and it’s been recreated through gripping performances, excellent production design and muscular battle sequences.
The Blu-ray also includes the very worthwhile documentary The Soul of War: Making Hacksaw Ridge, which at 69 minutes offers a complete look at the production of the film, as well as deleted scenes and a brief Veterans Day message from Mel Gibson.
Hacksaw Ridge is an Elevation Pictures release. It’s 139 minutes and rated 14A.