Mel Gibson takes another turn behind the camera to bring us the true story of Hacksaw Ridge and in particular, the conscientious objector Desmond Doss. Doss is credited with saving 75 people at Hacksaw and all without ever carrying a gun. Have the filmmakers done him the justice he deserves?
Borrowing heavily from the Stanley Kubrick war classic Full Metal Jacket, from a format point of view, Hacksaw Ridge is a bloody, gut-wrenching and yet funny tale of heroism and judgement. The film runs at a little over two-hours long with the first hour given over to the introduction of Doss, played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Social Network), the training and his fight with the army and his own team, to be able to actually go to war.
In this first half, we also begin to understand why Doss won’t pick up a gun. His father, played rather wonderfully by Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas), is a drunk who regularly beats his sons and his wife. I’ll stop there so as not to spoil things for you. We are also introduced to Doss’s future wife Dorothy, played by Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies, I Am Number Four) and sergeant Howell, played by Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball).
It’s when Vaughn enters the movie that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the laughs start to arrive. It’s not in a bad way, but it is another nod to Full Metal Jacket. However, if Gibson and writers Robert Schenkkan (The Quiet American, The Pacific) and Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner, Jack Irish) wanted to fully echo Full Metal Jacket and have someone emulate the wonderful drill sergeant Ronald Ermey, Vaughn wasn’t the man. That’s not to say he isn’t good, but the shouty, angry, ‘I’ll make up names for you’ has been done, and done better.
The second half of the film is when the guts begin to fly, literally. We all, I hope, understand that war is brutal and unforgiving and Gibson certainly doesn’t shy away from that with a no holds barred depiction of it. You see men torn apart, bits of everything flying everywhere and, amidst it all, is Doss running around desperately saving lives.
Some of the camera work here, particularly when they surge on the ridge again, is wonderful as we see war from the guns point of view. Sounds weird but it works and it works well. The writing is good if a little ‘ain’t we the best’ and plenty of southern accents portrayed too. In fact, rather wonderfully, an early caption reads: Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia and in my head I was happily singing along to the Laurel and Hardy song.
Garfield is good as Doss though in the beginning I was questioning why they’d chosen him and then made him look even younger than he does naturally. But as the movie progresses it makes sense and when you see the real Doss at the end it sort of tallies. There’s a plethora of other stars in this who all play their parts well, including Gibson’s son Milo, but personally it was Weaving that stood out.
I enjoyed the film and if I’m honest I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. The story is something straight out of Hollywood and I’m sure a certain amount of liberties have been employed. But, what Gibson, Schenkkan and Knight have done is pay justice to a character who you find yourself routing for from the start. A man who just wants to do his bit in his way. A man who won’t be moved from his principles and beliefs but will work damn hard for what he believes in.