Directed by Mel Gibson
Starring Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington
In the midst of an overbearing and crippling election, the real-life story of a wartime pacifist seems like the perfect antidote. The ideas of love and patience and kindness resonate so well amidst the visions of violence and brute force in Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge that any missteps in the storytelling are almost null and void. It's a brutal and respectable return to the craft for Gibson.
It's the height of WWII and Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), like most Americans, feels a certain passion for defending the American dream. Though he holds his personal convictions very strongly, including his anti-violence stance, Doss enlists in the service, with the intention of becoming a medic. Through meeting resistance while in basic training, Doss perseveres and ends up on the front lines, weaponless but nevertheless brave, during the bloodiest battle of the war. Despite his grounded faith, Doss never backs down, saving numerous lives and becoming the only conscientious observer to ever receive the Medal of Honor.
What Hacksaw Ridge does right is entirely in the second half. The battle sequence fills up ample amounts of time, but never feels overbearing. Gibson isn't one to skimp on the gore, showing many soldiers' injuries in full force. But, like in his The Passion of the Christ, the gore never feels exploitative. Rather, each instance of violence only serves to further the magnitude of the battle and the extremes at which Doss endured.
Where Hacksaw Ridge falters is in its set-up. Doss is a redeeming figure, but his good-natured innocence comes across almost too pure, leaving him as a sloppy caricature, instead of as a respectable man. This changes when we, later on, see glimpses of the places from where his convictions came. While Gibson is, no doubt, trying to frame an interesting storytelling approach, he cheapens his first act.
Garfield, who's acting chops are always noteworthy, gives a completely enveloped performance as Doss. During the credits, when we see clips of the real Doss, as an old man, recounting some of the scenes we've just witnessed, his cadence and demeanor are exactly the aged version of Garfield's take. He'll be overshadowed this awards season, for sure, but in a more hollow year, it'd be no surprise to see Garfield's name on the Best Actor list.
The supporting cast is a mixture of newcomers and fantastic character actors. Teresa Palmer shines as Dorothy, Doss's love interest. The role isn't anything more than the cutesy girl back home, but she brings something more to the table, elevating even the simplest of scenes. Hugo Weaving is almost unrecognizable as Doss's alcoholic father. It's a disgustingly impassioned performance. The men playing Doss's fellow soldiers could and should end up as tomorrow's stars, including Luke Bracey, Firass Dirani, and Goran D. Kleut.
It feels a little slow and overtly-glossy at the beginning, but the impact of the second act soars. It's a captivating story highlighted by inspiring filmmaking that speaks to multiple realms: faith, valor, and courage.
Runtime: 2h 11min