Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn.
Plot: Desmond Doss, a deeply devout man vows to join the military as a field medic following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. His ambition is called into question when the military discover Doss is a conscientious objector who refuses to handle a gun. Can Doss remain resolute in his convictions in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds?
Hollywood loves a story of courage winning over adversity and many would say that Desmond Doss’s story is tailor made for Hollywood, a patriotic story of a selflessly brave man who served his country with uncommon valour. I unfortunately missed the hype train for Hacksaw Ridge this past awards season and the opportunity of experiencing the film on the big screen, instead a home viewing had to suffice, it certainly made an impression that validated the word of mouth I had heard.
If you want powerful yet emotive spectacle then Mel Gibson is your man, he may have been an Hollywood outcast for the better part of the last decade and some of his past output a little patchy to say the least but if anything, Hacksaw Ridge shows he has lost none of his knack for visual flare and storytelling. Hacksaw Ridge is a little different to usual Gibson fare in some important respects, a little more subversive in nature acting more as a testament to pacifism, remaining true to one’s convictions and the unwavering power of faith than being an overtly flag-waving ‘YAY America!’ tale and as such is almost definitely his most well rounded & accomplished film behind the camera to date. There are beautifully composed shots featuring some utter brutality, really quite jarring imagery amongst Desmond’s more quiet and thoughtful moments, something Gibson also delivered in his most prominent ode to faith, The Passion Of The Christ, a juxtaposition of the devout & profane side by side on the screen makes for some truly powerful cinema.
Andrew Garlfield’s portrayal of Doss is excellent. It is a turn that is sensitively handled and manages to avoid being cloying, overly sentimental and caricature which can be a pitfall when attempting to portray a person of extraordinary compassion like that of Doss. It’s a role that rightfully earned him award nominations even if he didn’t get to take an Oscar or Globe for the part. There is also some fine support on offer by the likes of Hugo Weaving & Rachel Griffiths as Doss’s parents, Weaving in particular handling his role as Doss’s alcoholic father, himself a WWI veteran struggling with his own demons and more than a little to play in Doss’s pacifist outlook. The usually marmite Vince Vaughan also gives a great support performance here as Doss’s commanding officer, gruff and acerbic and handling the few moments of welcome levity in the film with aplomb.
I am more than a little disappointed that I didn’t get to experience Hacksaw Ridge on the big screen, to be fully immersed in the frankly remarkable battle scenes which had it not been for Dunkirk would have been up there as my best of the year, that is of course not to rubbish what Mel Gibson and the cast have achieved here. Hacksaw Ridge is a breathtaking, heartbreaking, fiercely delivered drama and also a sensitively handled account of the strength of the human spirit and one man’s courage in his convictions no matter the cost to his own wellbeing, had the award season it was released in not been so immensely strong it would have waltzed away with a lot more plaudits than it did. A must see.