Mel Gibson is one of the master filmmakers of our time, and after a ten year hiatus, Hacksaw Ridge proves to be a powerful return for him. While an overtly long opening prevents the film from joining the great war films of all time, the action sequences are some of the most enthralling in recent memory. More importantly however is the ability to inspire, and the message of non violence is demonstrated with a strength that makes the film more emotionally impactful.
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a highly religious common man who follows in his brother’s footsteps to join the U.S. Army to fight in World War II. Leaving behind his fiancée (Teresa Palmer), Doss faces resistance from his sergeant (Vince Vaughn) and Captain (Sam Worthington) when he refuses to touch a weapon. Facing hatred from his colleagues, Dodd descends into the hell of war, not to kill, but to save lives.
The film’s opening sequences do a good job at setting up Doss as a character, but ultimately feels overlong. Once the film gets into the training sequences, the performances shine and the central dilemma is utilized to its dramatic potential. However, Gibson shines most with his battle scenes; the war sequences are detailed, vibrant, and emotional, ranking among the most powerful scenes of the year.
Andrew Garfield is brilliant here, not only making a compelling hero, but elevating the material and character into a symbol for a greater idea. The entire supporting cast is brilliant, with Vince Vaughn’s outspoken sergeant being the highlight. This is definitely Doss’s story, but Gibson makes a point to highlight the entire cast.
Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful and brutal war film with a strong message and lead performance. While Gibson focuses a little too much on religious imagery, the strength of the climax elevates the film. War is a tough subject to depict, but the film serves as a powerful reminder of its costs. Grade: B+