There was a lot riding on this film. Not only was it Mel Gibson’s big come back having not directed since Apocalypto some 10 years ago. Andrew Garfield hasn’t really been seen since he was fired from the Spiderman franchise. But most of all not only is this film a horribly gruesome war film, but it’s also a movie about religion. What you see is a film that speaks for itself. Gibson is an amazing Director with great vision. Garfield, though he may be a diva, has such a wonderful ability to capture emotion and take you on a ride with him. And the juxtaposition between war and religion works perfectly.
Based on the true story of religious but ever so kind, Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider Man 1 and 2, The Social Network). After nearly killing his brother and suffering the backlash of an alcoholic father Desmond finds peace in God. After his brother decides to head to war, he follows suit feeling he owes it to his country. But as part of his religious beliefs, he wont touch a gun, his position within the Army is challenged. But with determination and with the love of his wife by his side, Desmond goes to war as a medic and ends up saving many of his fellow soldiers.
As with most war films, finding a balance between back-story and action is hard to work. With Hacksaw Ridge, it gets to a point where you slip out of being immersed in the film and start to think when do we see some action. And at that very point, you are thrown into the brutal and gruesome actions scenes.
There is no denying this film has a great religious line running throughout it, cleverly however you aren’t forced into it. Within the film Desmond doesn’t force his religion upon anyone, though by the end his fellow soldiers come to respect his decisions and allow for him to practice his belief. So much so it comes to a point where they don’t go into battle until he is ready. To balance out the religion the battle scenes are without doubt the most gruesome to have graced the screen in a long time. And while you see men getting dragged around after having their legs blown off, there is almost a poetry in the way the gun fires or the smoke slowly parts enough to see the enemy. Some of the scenes are so confronting, you find yourself looking away or holding your breath.
There are few Directors who can find the balance between the complexity and beauty of religion and belief and the complexity and horror of war. You can understand why Mel Gibson is the only person for the job after his efforts on Passion of the Christ. This is his first directorial effort in 10 years, the last being Apocolypto. Mind you Gibson had been approached numerous times before he officially signed on to direct. Gibson found a perfect blend of beauty in religion and beauty in war and how the struggle to identify with either is what drives Desmond to act so valorous. He managed to bring out what can only be imagined the true essence of Desmond Doss and his life, while also putting together a great and powerful battle at Hacksaw Ridge.
The cast is full of recognisable faces, most of which are Australian. One of the few foreign actors is Andrew Garfield who plays Desmond Doss. While we haven’t seen Garfield on the big screen for a few years it is easy to see why he has done so well in Hollywood. Garfield truly holds his own in the film proving he is a bankable actor. He manages to capture not only the joy of finding love with his giant smile; he also manages to capture an almost pure stupidity in the decision not to have a gun to protect himself in battle.
Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball) plays the squad leader Sergeant Howell. It’s a perfect fit for Vaughn who adds a humorous quality to the film, but it’s also a great change to see Vaughn act and show he has a range that is further than just setting up jokes. Mind you, he does run rather funny though I’m sure that isn’t intentional.
Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings, The Matrix) as Tom Doss, Desmond’s father, captures the brutal effect war can have on an individual and in addition how draining the dependency on alcohol can have. Along side is another Australian A-Lister Rachel Griffiths (Muriel’s Wedding, My Best Friends Wedding, Brothers and Sisters) who plays Desmond’s mother.
For the most part of the cast they are all Australian and this is great for the industry. What happens though is you start to hear little slips in accents. And a number of times you catch yourself playing the game of pick the Australian or pick what Australian TV show they are from. When the film is about an American fighting for America having a mostly Australian cast doesn’t give it an authenticity that you would expect.
Director of Photography is Simon Duggan who brought to life The Great Gatsby and I, Robot. Duggan brought a world of hope and love through vibrant colours and beautiful landscapes then crossed it with the dark and empty horror that is a war ground. But what you don’t find in this war film is the back and forth of a firing gun, you look down on the firing gun and follow the bullet to the bloody mess at the end, almost poetically.
Overall this film was greatly executed with what can only be described as an outstanding cast and crew. But what makes it even better is this film is for the most part greatly accurate, it isn’t about blowing anyone’s trumpet like most American war movies do. This film is one mans story of how he stood up against the system and fought for his country that way he believed he should. And once the film has ended and before the lights come on, we meet the man himself Desmond Doss tell the stories exactly how the movie portrayed them.
Review by Jay Cook