By Quentin Basnaw
Andrew Garfield can act? Sam Worthington can act? Hugo Weaving is still amazing? Hacksaw Ridge defied and exceeded my expectations. This film, directed by Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ), delivers a solid war story about one man most of us have never heard of. The movie follows the story of Desmond Doss, portrayed by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man), who was a real-life American citizen who enlisted during World War 2. The caveat: he enlisted to be a field medic and did not carry a weapon. He was so deeply religious that he followed God’s commandment even in war: thou shalt not kill. Desmond draws his strength from his deep belief in God and his teachings, creating an unabashed, unapologetic, and uncanny character so full of goodness that it’s hard not to like him. The rest of the cast rounds out the other important players in Desmond’s life. Every actor brings his their A-game to the movie, and sometimes even above their A-game! I honestly have never seen Andrew Garfield so. . . so. . . fantastic.
As soon as Hugo Weaving came on screen, I got excited and was not disappointed. He plays Desmond’s father, a broken, World War 1 veteran who cannot fathom why his son wants to go off to war. His performance is captivating, oozing with indescribable words. Fantastic job, Mr. Weaving! Also, I was unaware Sam Worthington was in the movie until right before the final act. I thought it was some random actor dude. NOPE! It was Sam Worthington. Where did these performances come from? They’re all fantastic!
Going back to the main events of this movie, the first half an hour is a little choppy for my tastes. More on that later. However, when Desmond reaches his basic training and refuses to touch a gun, the movie kicks into gear and doesn’t stop. The centerpiece of this movie is the Battle of Okinawa, one of the last battles of the Pacific Theatre. The objective for the brave men in this film: climb up a ridge (hence the title Hacksaw Ridge) and clear out Japanese resistance. The fighting that ensues is a brutal, unapologetic nightmare that lasts roughly ten minutes. At least I think it was ten minutes. In reality, it felt like it was never going to end. Men’s heads are blown away while other limbs are severed from the bodies. Blood and mud coats everyone and everything. Rats litter the bodies before and after battle. It is powerful and haunting. The sheer brutality of the combatants is brought to the forefront in these scenes. And yet, there’s Desmond: running around and SAVING lives. This is tense and heroic at the same time.
The movie tells a good overall story about how one man’s desire to harm no one ended up in the successfully saving of countless lives. It is a story that should not be missed. In this past year of so much unrest and ugliness in real life, watching a movie where the environment is a thousand times worse – but with one person saving all those he can in the middle of so much death – is captivating, inspiring, and moving to see.
After that glowing recommendation, here are my minor, and they are indeed minor, critiques of the movie. The pacing, first and foremost, didn’t quite work for me in the beginning. It is jumpy and a little too conventionally Hollywood in its set-up. When the movie gets to the basic training, the movie slows down to a reasonable pace and keeps you invested. Also, some of the character arcs are tossed to the wayside, even though the main focus of the story is always on Desmond. Another minor flaw is that, despite having its focus where it needed to be, the film’s portrayal of the Japanese is at times fair, yet briefly dehumanized. Thankfully, I only felt like that once or twice throughout. With that said, this film truly has an inspiring story, great cast, and strong anti-war message that doesn’t feel preachy. Hacksaw Ridge should not be missed.