When thinking about war films, it’s very hard not to go straight to the classics such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon or Saving Private Ryan. You have to make something very special to be mentioned in the same sentence as films like those and in Hacksaw Ridge, I think Mel Gibson has made one of the all time great war films.
Some war films use a particular war from history to tell a fictional story, all three of the above for example however, a war film for me becomes something else entirely when it tells a true story, especially one as remarkable as the story that Hacksaw Ridge is based on.
Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) became the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honour even though he refused to kill or even carry a rifle while serving as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Doss’ phenomenal story of courage saw him single-handedly save the lives of over 75 of his comrades while under constant enemy fire.
Hacksaw Ridge is very much a film of two halves; the first introducing us to Doss, exploring both his personal life and his motivations for choosing to become a Conscientious Objector and serve as a medic, the second depicting the Battle of Okinawa at Hacksaw Ridge, the site of one of the bravest human feats in history. Both tell the story of the determined individual that Doss was and Mel Gibson does a wonderful job in directing the film.
Gibson has attracted a lot of bad press over the years but there is no denying that he is a good director, and in Hacksaw Ridge, he may just have made his best film yet. It’s the emotional power of the story that Gibson taps into so successfully that makes Hacksaw Ridge such compelling viewing, whether it be Doss’ arduous journey through combat training or the visceral war sequences. I was an emotional wreck as the credits started to roll.
Speaking of war sequences, Hacksaw Ridge possesses some of the most brutal and harrowing you’ll ever see, reminiscent of the opening to Saving Private Ryan. Due to the fact that Doss served as a medic, there are parts where a strong stomach is needed as he obviously has to tend to a number of seriously wounded soldiers. The relentlessness of the sequences is admirable from Gibson and they’re wonderfully shot by Simon Duggan.
Coming to the performances, Hacksaw Ridge features an amazing lead performance from Andrew Garfield, who wanted to move away from his days as Spider-Man with a chance to play such an inspiring real life hero. I thought Garfield was always one of the best things about the Amazing Spider-Man films but it’s great to see him really grow as an actor. His performance as Doss is one of the best of the year and I would love to see him get some form of recognition come awards season.
The supporting cast threw me a little but they all play their part in excelling the film, expected from the likes of Hugo Weaving and Teresa Palmer but the film surprised me with how good some of the cast were. Sam Worthington and Luke Bracey were two that come to mind but the real surprise was Vince Vaughn, who I never thought I’d see play a part in a war film, particularly that of an Army Sergeant.
Few films this year have hit me emotionally as Hacksaw Ridge did and that’s why I have to say it’s a most welcome return to filmmaking from Mel Gibson. It’s right up there as one of the best films of the year and definitely one to see on the big screen.