After a decade-long hiatus, long-time actor and director Mel Gibson has come out with what critics are saying is “his best direction.” “Hacksaw Ridge” is an old-school war film that celebrates the nobility of courage and self-sacrifice, based on an incredible true story.
Private First Class Desmond T. Doss was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for single-handedly saving 75 comrades under the heat of enemy fire and artillery bombardment. Many men were awarded the same medal for their valor in close quarter combat during World War II. However, this story is about a unique medal recipient who was a Christian pacifist, a Conscientious Objector, and someone who refused to take up arms in his military service.
Actor Andrew Garfield magnificently plays the role of this hero as Desmond is badgered, berated and persecuted relentlessly by his superior officers and the men around him for his beliefs. He first came off as a push-over, but quickly brings enduring stamina and grit to his character. Eventually he earns the trust and respect from all who serve with him, though not before many tests are overcome.
If you are like me, you might have a tendency of guessing what happens from one scene to the next. If that is the case, you will find yourself constantly surprised in this one. A good half of the movie is spent in building Desmond’s background story: where he comes from, his courtship of the beautiful young nurse Dorothy Schutte (played by Teresa Palmer) and the hardships in basic training as he refuses to touch a rifle.
The style of timing is a bit odd but well done, possibly even strategic. Desmond is ultimately legally granted the right by the U.S. Army to go into battle as a combat medic without a single weapon. Following his successful court-martial and brief wedding night, we are immediately in deployment at the Pacific Theater on an island in Japan where Marines are trying to gain a key position to prevent Allied advancement.
For almost an hour straight, movie-goers are exposed to intense combat and carnage. It was enough to make me feel like I was in shell shock. Mel Gibson does not hold back on recreating the horrors of war and is even chastised for his almost perverted love for it. I would argue that while the movie used popular filming techniques, like slow-motion explosions and machine-gun fire, the visceral violence and unrelenting gore added to the realism of the film.
Rarely do you get to see a film that presents so much Christian humanism while remaining both cinematic and tasteful. Many lines in the script regarding the witness of faith were cliché, but delivered so well by the supporting actors that it was barely noticeable. The conversations they have are realistic, and a lot of work is put into creating context so that we can better relate to this amazing story.