Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, is a rousing film that is very giving, in terms of the time it offers the audience to understand and connect with its main character. But it is also a film that is completely unflinching in its depiction of the battle that took place on Hacksaw Ridge. It was in that generous amount of time with the main character, that the film finds its footing, which later on makes the experience all the more poignant. So there is much to take in when watching the film, which is good for me as that makes for a review with much to say. So let’s get to it.
The film tells the incredible true story of, Desmond Doss – portrayed by Andrew Garfield – who is a man who can’t stand by while other men go off to war to fight the Japanese. He enlists with the hope of serving his country, but there is an issue. Desmond Doss has committed to never taking the life of another person, thus he will not pick up a weapon and use it. As you can imagine, this presents a lot of problems for both him and the military. This film tells the story of how his objection to using a weapon, somehow made him a recipient of ‘The Medal of Honour’.
What surprised me the most in this film, and made me a happy chappy, was the generous and meaningful amount of time the film allowed its main character (Desmond Doss) to be set-up and explored. The first act and a half is solely given to making sure you understand who Doss is and what it is that drives him. Why is he so against killing? Why won’t he pick up a gun? Well, these questions and more are given answers.
Being given that time to connect with Doss and understand him, really does go a long way to making this film an involved experience. We also have the benefit of there being people back home that we know and have an ever so slight connection too; his mother, brother, father and finance. These connections to back home (for when he does go off to war) help to build Doss out as an individual, and not just someone who solely leads a film.
And what I think might be one of the most powerful connections to home and in Doss’ story, is the one with his father. Tom Doss – portrayed by Hugo Weaving – is a broken man; World War 1 sent this man into a dark place, and the people who suffered for it were his sons and their mother. Hugo Weaving is sublime in this film; truly investing himself in the troubled toil of this man who is not fit to be a father, or even a general contributor to society. So that connection between Desmond and his father is not a good one, but it cannot be denied that it is there. The actions of his father and how they fuel him in his life are potent motivators throughout the film.
It is also in Andrew Garfield that we are helped to further connect with Desmond. Garfield is an actor who isn’t afraid to fully commit to the emotional hardships of scene/moment (his performance in ‘Silence’ recently, being a perfect example). And so he really does do a lot to help us want to follow Desmond Doss and his incredible story.
There are a lot of standout moments in this film (moments I will be touching upon shortly); large battle scenes; heart wrenching losses of life etc. But what I think is the standout element of this film is the time, the effort and the detail it puts into building out and exploring the life and actions of Desmond Doss. Too often do films boast about telling the true story of someone who did an unbelievable thing, but they never properly expand on the person, they pay more attention to the thing that they did – which kind of defeats the purpose. We need to understand the person; what it is that inspired or motivated them to do such incredible feats, before we can then go with them on the journey. This is where, Hacksaw Ridge succeeds the most.
What it meant, was that after spending so much time with Doss and seeing the struggles he goes through; not only at home with his self-destructive father but also during basic training when everyone sees him as a coward who should quit. That when it came time for him to go off to war, I couldn’t have been more invested in his story and his triumphs – it was in the films best interests to highlight the kind of person Desmond was, and it did that in droves.
But that’s not the only place in which it succeeds, as this film’s portrayal of the battles that took place on Hacksaw Ridge is unforgettably disturbing; in a way that really does show you the true horrors of war. Mel Gibson has never been a director who has shied away from showing the grotesque realities of things. His films are often violent, honest and unflinching, and Hacksaw Ridge is no different.
When the film first moved from Doss and his hardships, either at home or at training, to the dangerous and unpleasant realities of war, there was a jarring change – one that took a little time to acclimate to. But director, Mel Gibson throws you so suddenly and far into the initial assault on Hacksaw Ridge (by Doss and his fellow troops, though other battalions had tried and failed) you are so taken aback by just how awful it all is, that you really don’t have any other option but to acclimate yourself. The first assault we see on Hacksaw Ridge isn’t at all an easy thing to watch, and it is made more difficult by the fact that it goes on for some time. I remember when it finally came to an end, I found myself exhaling hard and just needing to collecting myself, as the whole experience was totally consuming. Every single sense felt involved and exhausted – it was so overwhelming in its execution that it felt like I had been a part of it in some way. Gibson is able to capture the fortitude that it might take (on some level) to be a part of something that is utterly destroying in its effect – a true achievement on Gibson’s part.
And what I think makes it all the more intense is how it is all shot. Gibson uses nearly all practical effects in the battles; from massive explosions which result in shrapnel of all kinds flying around, and at characters/actors. Blood squibs and detailed make-up are used to show the horrifying results of being struck by anything on the battlefield, and overall, Gibson just throws everything that can make the experience all the more immersive. No punches are pulled, and no feelings of discomfort are considered. It is an incredibly unsettling spectacle; one that I will not forget soon – especially because of how well it is all done.
But there was an issue that arose in the latter half of the film, during the time on Hacksaw Ridge. It is an issue that many films like this suffer from: the supporting cast of soldiers are not that well-developed (to be fair to the film, it didn’t really have the time) and so when some of them began to fall on the battlefield, I found myself struggling to either recognise them, or remember what their connection was to Doss during basic training. The film relies on them either having a particular character trait or something about them that is physically memorable, to aid you in remembering them. So while it did make it easier to identify them during the battle (sometimes) it didn’t do anything to help me connect with them on a more meaningful level. I of course felt bad seeing any of them get hurt or killed, but it didn’t go any deeper than that.
Still, with how immersive and unrelenting the battle scenes are, I still found myself welling up a couple of times. This film is an emotionally unforgiving film and it had me completely under its control – never wanting to turn away or miss anything.
I have been eager to see this film for some time – mainly due to my love of Mel Gibson as a director. It’s been a while since he’s sat in the chair (for understandable reasons) but my excitement for when he inevitably returned was always there. And so it makes it all the better, that Hacksaw Ridge is as good as it is. This film had me intrigued by its primary character and it had hooked by its unrelenting battle scenes (in a masochistic way of course). Hacksaw Ridge offers a varied experience; it was one that I found very moving and emotionally devastating.
I am absolutely recommending Hacksaw Ridge. This is a film that should be experienced on the big screen, but more than that, this is a film that should be experienced, period.
So what did you think of Hacksaw Ridge? Let me know in the comments down below. You can keep yourself updated on when I post new reviews bu either following my blog directly, or following me over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my review, I love doing this, and any support is hugely appreciated.