Review: Hacksaw Ridge is story of conscientious objector, but it doesn’t mean its anti-war

Andrew Garfield as Desmond T. Doss in Mel Gibson's Hawksaw Ridge. Picture: Lionsgate/Mark Rogers

Andrew Garfield as Desmond T. Doss in Mel Gibson's Hawksaw Ridge. Picture: Lionsgate/Mark Rogers - Credit: PA

Mel Gibson has done a very effective job on real-life tale of soldier without a gun Desmond Doss, but it is also his most sappy and corny film.

Hacksaw Ridge (15)

***

When a big name director decides that it is time for him to show audiences the brutality of war it is usually in support of the notion that war, overall, is a bad thing.

When Mel Gibson does it, you're not so sure. This is a director who spent two hours beating a man into a pulp and telling us it was a vision of divine love. Who knows what he might see in an hour of blood drenched, gut splattering carnage on a Japanese cliff top? Just because this is the story of a conscientious objector, doesn't mean it is anti-war, or anti-violence.


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What he saw in Hacksaw Ridge was a great true story; and other movies. Seventh Day Adventist Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield in his Oscar nominated role) was, in his own words, a 'conscientious co-operator' who enlisted in the army at the start of the Second World War but refused to even touch a rifle.

The US Army had some issues initially dealing with his position but he became an unarmed battlefield medic and during the fighting in Okinawa in 1944 performed so many acts of heroism that he was awarded the Medal of Honour and a Purple Heart.

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The movie's big set piece is a furious reenactment of the fighting at Maeda Escarpment — the so called Hacksaw Ridge, which is a visceral and auditory assault in the manner of the D-day sequence in Saving Private Ryan.

Prior to that the film dabbles in a curiously tepid rerun of the first part of Full Metal Jacket with Vince Vaughn playing the drill instructor who encourages the rest of the platoon to try and drum Doss out of the army. Around this the film often tries to sneak in a Thin Red Line vibe, with the music trying to approximate the Hans Zimmer score from that film. But while Terrence Malick's film dealt in uncertainty and transcendence, Ridge has a moral certainty.

Doss survives because his faith is stronger than those around him, and more valid than those of the Japanese with their suicide rituals and disregard for self preservation on the battlefield.

Gibson has done a very effective job on the film, but it is also his most sappy and corny film. There is something almost Forrest Gump-ish about the film's Doss, always positive, always righteous, usually grinning and with his simple set of beliefs to follow, skipping unscathed through the carnage while everyone else is being ripped apart.

The film represents a well timed comeback for Mel Gibson. His film is patriotic and God fearing but also defiant and individualistic, a man standing up against the system. Suddenly he is a man in tune with the times, the comeback grand dad.

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