Mel Gibson was once known as an action star. Over the years, he has successfully transitioned into a very successful director. With films like Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, he has delivered another brutal experience. Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of World War II hero, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield). After an accident that befalls his brother at an early age, Doss has an epiphany and swears off violence. Fast forward 15 years and an older Desmond helps at the scene of an accident when he finds his calling as a medic. Desmond also finds his love interest during this time in Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) a nurse at the local hospital. At this stage in World War II, men joined the army out of a sense of duty and honor and Desmond was no different. His only difference was his conviction to non violence, meaning he would refuse to carry a firearm. The Army calls him a "conscientious objector" and Doss was the first of three to win the Medal of Honor.
After an emotional talk with his father, Tom (Hugo Weaving) battling inner demons himself where we learn more of his backstory in the Great War of WWI, Doss heads to boot camp. Things go fine for Doss until it comes time for rifle training and he refuses to participate. The Army said Doss didn't have to participate as a medic but his commanding officers see things another way. Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) presses Doss and his fellow soldiers to the point of almost breaking him but, Doss prevails. Vince Vaughn puts in a fantastic performance. He is able to blend subtle humor with the hard nose CO you expect an Army Sergeant to be. After a battle over a court marshal, Doss is able to stay true to his conviction and heads to Okinawa as a medic.
Up until now, the film was relatively calm with some bits of humor but right when boots hit the ground, it takes a violent turn. The graphic violence in the battle for Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most intense and graphic scenes in any war film. Mel Gibson is no stranger to violent realisim and he does not hold back here. The Passion of the Christ had the brutal crucifixion scene of Christ, Apocalypto had the beheading scene among many brutal scenes and Hacksaw Ridge has one long battle. Doss does his job well and is able to save countless men during the battle. Dodging and weaving bullets as they zip past his head the film recreates war like few films have.
The film does not glamorize war or either side fighting it. Both the American and Japanese forces are portrayed accurately enough. Gibson was able to recreate the horrors of war the best a film could do but at what cost? The graphic violence could put some people off. Leaving the theater, that was the biggest comment people had. It was too violent. If you are able to stomach the gore, there is a gem to be found here. Garfield does a remarkable job as Desmond Doss and, he sheds his Peter Parker / Spider-man skin nicely. Vince Vaughn and Hugo Weaving are also to be commended for stellar performances as well. This film works very well and is one of the best war films I've seen in years.
What works: Andrew Garfield was fantastic and proves he is a talented young actor. Vince Vaughn and Hugo Weaving puts in Oscar caliber performances. Mel Gibson delivers another intense true story, The end featured interviews with Doss and his fellow soldiers ending the film on an emotional, uplifting note.
What doesn't work: The graphic violence may be too much for some audience members. The graphic brutality may overshadow the great performances. Lionsgate may have made an error releasing this in early November. This feels like a December tentpole film. Come Academy Award nomination time, this may be forgotten or lost in the shuffle.
Closing thought: This is a fantastic film but still has some flaws. The pacing is slow at times but is able to hold your attention. The graphic content was a bit unsettling for some at times. This is a film to see on the big screen though because like a car accident, you can't take your eyes off the violence. Just try to remember those great performances.