MPAA Rating: R
for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images
Runtime: 131 minutes
Directed by: Mel Gibson
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Nathan Baird
It’s rare these days to find a film that covers so many angles of its story that it’s breath-taking. My first look at an unfinished screening of Hacksaw Ridge already had me convinced this movie would be one of the year’s best films.
Some may question that when seeing the trailers about yet another WWII film, and one made by Mel Gibson. Having seen the film three times, it’s like pulling on the paper of a present and finding something heartfelt awaiting each layer.
First off we learn about Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He shares his home with a brother (Nathaniel Buzolic), mother (Rachel Griffiths) and an angry drunken father (Hugo Weaving). His mother tries to have the boys follow in their Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs which means church on Saturday.
Desmond has many days where he’s mistreated by his dad. As news of WWII engulfs the country Desmond tells his father he’s going to enlist to fight. His dad – who has mental wounds from his own fight in WWI – blasts Desmond with anger and spite about his decision. When his dad holds a gun on Desmond’s mother, he grabs the gun from his dad. Could that have had something to do with him becoming a conscientious objector in the 307th Regiment, 77th Infantry Division?
He signs up as a medic, but before he heads off to boot camp he meets nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), and within a day or two announces he is going to marry her. They share a very sweet and deep love for each other. When Desmond arrives at boot camp, it’s nothing like he expected.
When he refuses to hold a rifle or kill anyone, his comrades beat him up while some like Smitty (Luke Bracey) just stand by, and Sergeant Howell, his drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn,) wants him out of the service. Desmond barely squeaks by thanks to his constitutional right to serve as a medic and not have to carry or use a gun. He does spend some days in jail, and is kept coolheaded by reading the small Bible Dorothy gave him.
At this point screenwriters Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight already have the audience infatuated with this story expertly served with the fine cast and feeling warm and cozy with the beautiful love story. Then it’s war time and Mel Gibson’s mind-blowing transition to the top of Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa is immediately almost hard to believe; but this is a true story. What Desmond does on top of that hill amongst attack after attack by the Japanese is both chilling and remarkable. This all unfolds through the amazing cinematography of Simon Duggan and is inspired by a heart-thumping musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.
Gibson creates scenes that makes the audience feel as if they are on that ridge. We know he has talents that have won him major awards, but this film not only tops those, you can actually feel his compassion for Desmond and honor’s him for an unbelievable sacrifice by single-handedly and dodging bullet after bullet, carried 75 wounded men over his shoulder to lower them down the ridge for triage. Desmond Doss was the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Listening to Mel Gibson talk about this film was energizing. He really felt the deep goodness in this man whose faith and determination far outshined a typical soldier. Gibson wraps this film in layers of courage, strong faith, bravery, patriotism, heroism and valor. It’s a gift to everyone who sees it. I hope he and the film, cast (especially Andrew Garfield), and filmmakers get the praise and awards for a film that is among the best in decades, and one I feel privileged to have seen and learned about a true hero.
Photo Credits: Mark Rogers / Lionsgate
Read the Interviews with Mel, the cast, writers and producers