Say what you will about Mel Gibson as a person. You don’t have to like him to respect his talent as a director. That talent shines in the phenomenal “Hacksaw Ridge,” a true story of religious conviction and courage that, possibly, could serve as a redemptive offering from Gibson.
This ranks up there with “Saving Private Ryan” and “Platoon” as an action-packed film that shows war in all its ugliness. It's also a showcase for the beautiful spirit of a man who refuses to carry a weapon. Regardless of whether you agree with the choices Desmond T. Doss makes, you will admire his spirit and loyalty to his beliefs.
The first half of the movie centers on the home life of Doss (Andrew Garfield, “The Amazing Spider-Man.”) He is depicted as a devout man who decides he wants to enlist in the U.S. Army, where he plans to serve as a medic. His drunken, often violent father (Hugo Weaving, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”), himself suffering from post-traumatic stress from his experiences in World War I, belittles both of his sons for wanting to join the war effort.
Meanwhile, Doss falls in love Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer, “Lights Out”), a nurse who can’t believe how awkward, but sincere, Doss is.
His refusal to carry or even touch a rifle makes him the butt of jokes from the other men in his unit. The “kidding”eventually transitions into out-and-out violence. Meanwhile, his exasperated sergeant (Vince Vaughn, in one of his finest roles) provides comic relief at first, then simply tries to talk Doss into saving himself from further torment and possibly a court martial.
At last, Doss finds himself without a weapon of any kind during the grisly Battle of Okinawa at Hacksaw Ridge. Bullets and limbs fly while Doss, steadfast in his faith, not only survives against all the odds but also saves the lives of others.
This isn’t for children and it certainly isn’t for the squeamish. The last time I remember seeing bloodshed this visceral was during “Saving Private Ryan.” Gibson doesn’t exploit the gore — rather, he shows the battles realistically and in a way that makes the achievements of Doss all the more profound.
The performances are terrific. Garfield has great depth, and breathes life into Doss at every moment.
This is a movie that will have your heart pounding through the battle scenes. Then it will touch your heart at the very end. It is one of the best films of the year and one of the finest war movies I ever have seen.