A realistic anti-violence war film, Hacksaw Ridge is both appealing and appalling. Directed by Mel Gibson to a screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss; a Seventh-day Adventist believer, who swore off violence due to his faith as well as early childhood traumas. Yet, despite Doss’ position as a conscientious objector, when his brother and others in community enlist to fight in WWII, Doss follows suit. What ensues is a fascinating tale of persistence, resilience and courage.
Hacksaw Ridge features excellent acting by Andrew Garfield in the leading role of Doss, supported by Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Richard Pyros and Rachel Griffiths.
The real Desmond Doss refused for years to have a book or a film made about his heroism. He was much concerned with depicting the facts accurately. Though Doss passed on in 2006, it is said that the film does present the story quite truthfully, only taking limited liberty with elements of Doss’ earlier days as a child. Mel Gibson, who was offered to direct the film and rejected it twice, finally took on the job. In an interview, he mentioned that the story ultimately hit him in the heart, and once he could visualize it, that was a go. Gibson brought into the project a strong sense of orchestrated violence. While I do not hail him as an extraordinary filmmaker, he does have a knack for heroism, even if, in this case, the protagonist is an antihero. The other element that no doubt pulled Gibson in is the strong sense of faith and sacrifice.
Hacksaw Ridge is very graphic in showing the horror of war, and while the action flows smoothly, there are some sore points with Gibson’s guiding hand. Gibson occasionally tends to melodrama where the power of the scene itself should suffice. Less is more is a lesson Gibson is yet to learn. Also, a philosophical and moral question that surfaces in the film but is being evaded, is what if your people are being attacked and everyone on your side embraces the position of bear no arms? I do not fault Gibson for not addressing it further as it is a tough quandary, and would have taken the plot in a different direction. Still, it remains hanging as a distant dark cloud over the film’s horizon.
All in all, Hacksaw Ridge shares some of the qualities of Saving Private Ryan. And while not achieving Spielberg’s mastery, Gibson craftily brings to life a story worth telling; an effective reminder to the folly of man and our right to choose how to respond to events that destiny throws our way.