He was one of the greatest heroes in American history, and he never fired a bullet.
It’s not a big surprise that a surge in faith-centered films have arisen in light of the season, or possibly it’s really just what people need after such an onslaught of wavering political faith in the American people just now. Between Martin Scorsese’s Silence and even Jackie, whose faith comes forth as a predominant narrative catalyst for the titular character, it’s a recurring theme within the genre just now.
Desmond Doss, played here by Andrew Garfield (also starring in Silence, but that’s for another day), is one of America’s greatest heroes, and surprisingly so made his name through decisions that were based down entirely to his faith.
Director Mel Gibson brings forth a story that catapults his own personal image out as one of Hollywood’s most famous pariahs. It’s one that’s as engaging as it is universal; the ultimate underdog whose bravery and extreme patriotism regards faith, trust and love as the most characteristically positive means of fulfilling a life well lived. For himself, for his family and for the one he loves most, his love interest Dorothy Doss (Aussie babe Teresa Palmer).
Desmond’s earlier life leads him to a path of religion after quarrels and mishaps with his brother and a father (Hugo Weaving ) drowning with grief and personal trauma from his time in on the battlefield, leaving him scarred, drunk and violent. Desmond grows up a true gentleman; working around his small town doing dealings with the church group helmed by his mother (Rachel Griffiths) before meeting his true love. The film from here triggers it’s first half, a relentlessly cheesy romantic flair where Desmond mumbles and coyly chatters his way through uncomfortable first dates. Luckily, Garfield has an endless amount of charm where a single smirk and grin is ably passable to survive through a story done a thousand times over.
From here, Doss decides he must commit himself to the army, to provide for his country and for his family, but as a Medic, ably serving but without damaging his beliefs and faith — which in this case means he has decided to never harm another human, therefore refusing to use let alone touch a weapon.
Hacksaw Ridge quickly unfolds, dramatically turning from one genre to the next. Gibson’s eye for detail is unrivalled and the action explodes on screen like an enthralling, heart-racing routine. It’s orchestrated with the means to excite and by god does it do that. Eyes will be peeled at the extremities that Gibson and cast are able to demonstrate as a battle scene spans to the latter half of a two-hour film where Doss and his team manipulate their way through Hacksaw Ridge, a devastating battle arena atop a cliff’s edge where the Japanese appear in droves and the Americans fight with all of their might through fog, blood and a startling amount of fallen soldiers.
Underneath it all, however, is a human story at its core, with Doss’ personal investment in WWII despite the trials and tribulations placed by the army and soldiers that simply cannot see through his faith placed as obstacles. Still, his faith wavers, and through complete chaos on the battlefront, upholds his truest, most endearing sentiment.
Gibson’s battering achievement come the final half is unrelenting and breathtakingly visceral in its execution that an overly soapy start can be wavered. It culminates in one of the most exhilaratingly stirring and vigorous WWII epics that’s undoubtedly bolstered by Garfield’s affecting performance, ably carrying forth aspects that contend to both his faith and the physicality and brutality that the battlefield brings.
Dir: Mel Gibson
Scr: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer
Prd: Terry Benedict, Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, William D. Johnson, Bill Mechanic
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
DOP: Simon Duggan
Runtime: 139 minutes