Something of a cliched war movie, but it has a great focal point in Andrew Garfield.
Based on the true story of Desmond Doss, an American army medic sent to Japan in World War 2, who takes part in the siege of Hacksaw Ridge and would become one of the most decorated soldiers for bravery under fire.
Hacksaw Ridge released last year in America but actually in January this year for the UK and was unfortunately missed. There are some great performances here from a lot of surprising places in this movie.
It is something of a traditional war film, through and through, in fact I did sort of roll my eyes as it went through some of the most routine aspects of any war movie. We have brothers going to war, one of them meets a girl and they instantly fall in love only for him to almost as quickly tell her he’s going to the war. She’s momentarily bothered but gets over it. He goes through the classic training at boot camp with a degrading drill sergeant, the antagonistic muscle-head and the good-looking guy.
But, most of that is entirely part of the course. Andrew Garfield’s character, Desmond Doss, joins the army as a “conscientious objector”, a man determined to help win the war but without taking any lives or firing a gun. This is a fascinating and challenging perspective of war. Moreover is the film’s representation of how the military sees his beliefs, the first half of this film is a great piece of drama as young man fights for what he believes is right against everyone else around him, yet maintains his own dignity and kindness.
The film has a stand out performance from Hugo Weaving also. As an actor who frequently plays villains in genre movies, it was great to see a proper dramatic turn from him here, full of magnetism. Even Vince Vaughn, not the first person you think of for his role, gave the whole “shouting drill sergeant” character a new lease of life.
Of course, what people like to talk about with regards to Hacksaw Ridge is the action and the war scenes. Unlike the pinpoint precision of Dunkirk‘s action sequences, this film is gut-busting and visceral. Soldiers get blown apart by explosives and grenades, shot to ribbons, blood and mud flying everywhere. It is a hellish landscape where the almost saintly Desmond Doss find himself in while attempting to heal and rescue people. It is an appalling and horrible reality but it is captured extremely well. The location of Hacksaw Ridge and even the operation that is being attempted, simply looks like an anvil of death, a mindless exercise in suffering and a great example of how fruitless war can be.
If it weren’t for Andrew Garfield, who is fantastic here both before and during the war scenes (far better than he was in this year’s Silence) the film might have become something of a slog towards the end.
While it is based off of true events, the film was somewhat discouragingly one-sided. One of the things I liked most about 2006’s Letters from Iwo Jima was how balanced the story was in regards to both sides of the conflict. There is one moment were we see Desmond’s humanity aiding those on the opposition, and another reference to more being done, but the film’s focus on mercy and saving of lives felt a little black and white at times. Us versus them. I feel like the film’s motivations and its central character’s belief that lives should be saved, could have been reflected more evenly.
But this is a very moot point; it being a true story and it being war. I would have liked to have seen a bit of his medical training before going into the war too. Desmond does appear to immediately know what to do.
This film is a visceral experience yet a very challenging and unique view on the subject, delivered with excellent performances across the board and production value that depicts how terrible it was perfectly.