Review: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)


When confronted with the word “hero”, different people picture different men in their minds. Some think of superheroes, some think of immensely strong and fearless soldiers and some think of remarkable generals and leaders. We seem to forget that the key aspects of a true hero are bravery and selflessness. Mel Gibson’s first film in over a decade is the biography of such a hero, a man who wasn’t particularly strong or skilled, but was ready to risk his life to save others. Hacksaw Ridge is an inspiring story based on true events although at times it seems too romanticized.

The story begins with Desmond Doss’ (Andrew Garfield) childhood in Lynchbourg, Virginia. Desmond and his brother Hal grow up with their religious mother (Rachel Griffiths) and their troubled father (Hugo Weaving), an alcoholic who is still haunted by his WWI demons. When the United States entered WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Desmund and his brother decide to enlist for the army as most people in their age did. Desmund joins the 77th division and starts his training, but has a hard time there as he refuses to even touch a gun. Killing another man, even in a war, is against his deep-rooted beliefs and his only purpose is to serve as a medic, saving people instead of killing them. The film then moves forward to 1945 and the battle of Okinawa where amidst a living hell, Desmund Doss saves numerous lives and shows what he’s made of.

I had read and heard about how good this film was and since it was one of the most nodded in the Oscars I had high expectations. I have to say that watching the first part was quite disappointing. Everything about Desmond’s life before he enlisted seemed too Hollywood-esque. He appears as the perfect man, even though he had a difficult childhood growing up with an alcoholic father (which is not true for the real Desmond Doss’ father), he falls in love with first sight with a beautiful girl and after two days he makes her fall in love with him too. It’s like the screen writer preferred to please the audience rather than telling the true story. Fortunately, there was Hugo Weaving’s performance to redeem me. Such an underrated actor, I really felt that he should have got at least a nomination for this season’s awards. Everything got better after Desmond goes to the training camp, but still I could see nothing great about the picture.

Much to the film’s credit, I forgot everything when the battle scene started. The scene was breathtaking! The pace was excellent, the sound and directing kept me in the edge of my seat, the cinematography and costumes were perfect. I didn’t know the historical details so I had no idea what the result would be and the film kept me guessing until the end sustaining suspense to the highest level. Desmond’s heroic act was masterfully showcased and the footage in the end made for the perfect epilogue.

Andrew Garfield was very good in this film and the supporting cast was solid. It’s a great return for Mel Gibson who got his first Academy Award nomination since 1996 when he won two Oscars for Braveheart. Although it’s not the masterpiece some people had me believe, it’s still makes for a great war film which can both affect you with its touching story and thrill you with astonishing action moments.