Mel Gibson directs Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer and Vince Vaughn in this fantastical but true tale of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector who went into bloody battle to save lives with no weapon, despite oppressive opposition from the Army itself over his stance.
A powerful film – full of sentiment, gruelling violence and messianic connotations as only Mad Mel (the director) seemingly cares to present and combine well. The initial romance and hour of the brutal reaction of the Army brass to break Doss of his convictions, that fly in the face of what the other men in his unit are being trained to relent on, are effective and affecting. But the movie truly becomes a worthy experience once we enter Hacksaw Ridge itself in the kinetic and haunting second half. Fuck Saving Private Ryan! The theatre of war has never been presented quite so hellish, quite so callously gore heavy in a mainstream American piece of cinema. You are shaken by the sheer terror Gibson creates around his hero before he even tries to present the near impossible and near improbable heroism the Doss actually achieved out there. It adds up to quite the endurance testing thrill ride. You’ll walk out feeling pummelled, entertained, inspired and overwrought all at the same time. Which is not to say the movie is without flaw. The Japanese are presented as almost verminous and considering Gibson’s past transgressions on and off screen, this does make you flinch. Garfield puts in a mannered turn, some end credit footage of the real Doss underlines this is done for veracity’s sake, but the supporting cast fall further on the side of acceptable rather than stellar. Vince Vaughn in particular through no fault of his acting here, but of his back catalogue entire, yanks you out of the story’s reality every time he’s on screen. You can’t help but get snagged as he barks orders or dives into a foxhole, by the nagging thought “Hey, that’s Vince Vaughn from Wedding Crashers!” rather than a Sergeant trying to lead his men. Just flaws however, the whole is very, very good and you get to see a soldier use a limbless torso as a shield to advance and unleash death on a battalion. What more could you want from a film about a pacifist?