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Hacksaw Ridge - Movie Review

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Hacksaw Ridge - Movie Review

4 starsThough largely out of the limelight for the last dozen or so years – save for a turn behind the camera in 2006’s Apocalypto, a failed return to acting as a puppet-wielding alcoholic, and more than the occasional news clip of arrest, divorce, assault, and anti-Semite accusations, Mel Gibson has returned with a vengeance to direct Hacksaw Ridge, a film that wowed audiences at this year’s Venice Film Festival and one that promises to both woo the religious right and entertain the masses with its hero tale of faith, bravery, romance, and war.

The film is the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a Seventh Day Adventist and conscientious objector who saved the lives of dozens of soldiers during World War 2’s battle for Okinawa. Faced with the decision to somehow reconcile his devout faith with the deadly reality of war, Doss found a moral compromise and served as an Army Medic while refusing to carry a weapon, a decision that makes his story all that much more unbelievable.

It is essential to note that early in the film, Gibson flashes back to Doss’s early childhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia. It’s these formative years that so vividly illustrate the original of Doss’s uncompromising convictions. The young Doss shows a penchant for helping people when he rushes a car crash victim to the hospital where he also meets a young nurse named Dorothy (Theresa Palmer), with whom he eventually falls in love. It would all be so Forrest Gump-ily sweet and wholesome were it not for his life back home where things are a bit more of a challenge as he’s forced to endure the almost daily abuse of his mother (Rachel Griffiths) by an alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving). We learn that with his fellow soldiers brought back from France in caskets, father Doss has yet to deal with the mental wounds left over from his time in The Great War.

As Doss ships off to boot camp, we’re given a fairly straightforward telling of his military story – his basic training, the constant persecution by fellow GIs (including his commanding officer played by Vince Vaughn), the incessant pressure and persecution for his refusal to waver in his convictions, and even a court martial hearing that could put the soldier behind bars for the duration of the war. But Doss’s faith is never shaken. He wants to serve his country, but his refusal to even touch a rifle compromises the safety of he and his and his fellow GIs when they are eventually called to duty in the Pacific Theater in the Spring of 1945 - specifically Okinawa.

It is at this point that Hacksaw Ridge erupts into a raging hell on the screen when Doss’s unit is tasked with taking on the Japanese who have dug in atop the Madea Escarpment, a craggy cliffside known as Hacksaw Ridge. The battle scenes are both exhilarating and at the same time unsettling as the realism with which Gibson illustrates the hell of war is like nothing we’ve ever seen.

Folks, beware! Films don’t get any more graphic than this. The sight of heads exploding into a bloody cloud, bodies flailing through the air with intestines and brain tissue smattering the faces of those nearby, makes Saving Private Ryan’s Normandy Beach landing scene (the standard-bearer of war realism) feel like a child’s tale. It’s all extremely difficult to watch, but thankfully, the violence is frequently tempered by scenes of Doss scurrying about, bandaging and pulling to safety dozens of wounded soldiers. The real Corpsman Doss is reported to have saved the lives of some 75 fellow soldiers. It’s especially rewarding to see the turnabout in the attitudes of Doss’s fellow GIs who once set out to make his life a misery. For his bravery, Doss was rewarded as only the third conscientious objector to ever receive the Medal of Honor

Much like those trashy-fun war propaganda films of yesteryear, the Japanese are portrayed as slant-eyed, pop-bottle-bespectacled little devils, while every American soldier never goes down with a full clip or before thrusting a bayonet into the gut of the enemy. Yes, there’s plenty of cheese to go around in Andrew Knight’s script and Gibson has never been known for his subtle hand, but there’s no denying the film’s power and significance. Its depiction of the strength of personal convictions and its violent embodiment of the hell of war could do the whole world some good. America needs a real hero right now. If only we all respected the unwavering principles and convictions of others as stubbornly as we hold onto our own, perhaps we wouldn’t have to dig back through some 70 years of history to find our real heroes.

Hacksaw Ridge - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.
131 mins
: Mel Gibson
Andrew Knight
Teresa Palmer, Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn
: War | Military
When the order came to retreat, one man stayed.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Lord, let me get just one more"
Theatrical Distributor:
Summit Entertainment
Official Site:
Release Date:
November 4, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: The extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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Hacksaw Ridge - Movie Review

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