This review was originally published in September 2016 and has been updated to reflect its 2017 release in the UK.
Minor Spoilers Follow
I was lucky enough to see an early screening of this film at Empire Live, which took place a few weeks ago at The O2 Arena.
I have to admit that my knowledge of the film was relatively minor before entering. I knew was that this was a war film, as well as being Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort since 2006’s Apocalypto. All I could do was hope it was as good as his previous efforts.
Hacksaw Ridge follows the story of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a deeply religious Christian and a man who has an intense desire to join the military in order to defend his homeland from the rage of Japanese imperialism. But there’s a catch… He’s a pacifist.
Refusing to pick up a gun, even during training, Doss is taunted by his fellow soldiers and barely respected by his commanding officers (Sam Worthington & Vince Vaughn).
But he continues to fight for the right to run into a hail of bullets without a weapon. After much striving, his wish is granted and, with only his faith to defend him, he runs head first into the lion’s den known as World War II.
I may have walked into that screen not expecting much, but when I walked out 2 hours later, I realised I just saw a film that will go down in history as, not just a great war film, but one of the most memorable and lasting films ever made in the history of world cinema.
Hacksaw Ridge is quite possibly one of the greatest films ever made and, in my humble opinion, is a more accomplished war film than Saving Private Ryan.
(Yes, I really did just write that.)
After 10 years in the wilderness, Mel Gibson has now firmly placed himself within the cabal of Hollywood elite directors, and the skill he brings here is next to none. From the character scenes in small town America to the brutal violence of the Pacific battlefield, Gibson moves his camera with confidence and consummate elegance.
While at first Doss’ decision to enlist seems ridiculous, you can’t help getting caught up with this young man’s desire to fight for his country and still hold firm to his moral code.
There might be some that feel the film’s first third is rather plodding, I can only disagree as I found the build up of character necessary in order to truly emphasise when said characters meet their destinies in the third act.
Whilst I enjoyed Andrew Garfield’s stoic performance in Silence, it’s this film where his incredible versatility as an actor is shown off. It would have been easy for the character of Doss to be blandly religious, but the emotion Garfield brings makes him the most engaging character on screen.
He is ably supported by a strong supporting cast with standout performances from both Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn. (In the case of Vaughn, this is first “serious” role I’ve seen him in since 1996’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and man does he deliver!)
While the film has the most literal third act structure I’ve seen since Peter Jackson’s King Kong, the length of time taken in building up Doss and his comrades pays off in spades as they are thrown into a perilous situation on the scale of Saving Private Ryan’s Normandy Landings.
The only (mild) criticism that I can offer is that the role of Dorothy Schutte, Doss’ wife (played excellently by Teresa Palmer) is rather superfluous to the overall needs of the plot. But as this is a WWII film, that is somewhat to be expected.
Nonetheless, my recommendation for this film cannot be any higher. This is THE film to see of 2017 and I’m calling it now: Mel Gibson is GUARANTEED a Best Director Oscar.