Movie Review – Hackshaw Ridge

Mel Gibson’s 2016 renaissance continues with his first directorial effort in a decade – and it’s up there with his best.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge will leave you dumbstruck. It’s one of those movies that shakes you to the core and leaves you sitting in silence for the entire drive home. Its depiction of war on the frontlines is harrowing, heart wrenching and hard to watch at times; more than once I found myself wincing or shifting in my seat from the unrelenting barrage of bullets and body parts. And yet, somehow, Gibson is able to marry this mixture of blood, gore and body horror to an uplifting tale that is equal parts profound and graceful.

The film tells the remarkable true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a devout Christian who decides to enlist following the United States’ decision to enter World War II. Desmond’s intense faith steers him towards refusing to carry a weapon and becoming a field medic, much to the dismay of his commanding officers. Branded a coward by his peers, he soon finds himself shipped out to Okinawa where a brutal Japanese counterattack on Hacksaw Ridge leaves him stranded in enemy territory. Armed with only a first aid kit, the film follows Desmond’s efforts as he doggedly saves the lives of over 70 injured American soldiers in the dead of night whilst surrounded by the Japanese.

The film is split into two distinct halves. The first follows Desmond’s upbringing in Virginia, his strained relationship with his abusive father Tom (Hugo Weaving) and his betrothal to nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer).  The tone here is decidedly lighter, with Gibson’s harsh portrayal of war conflicting severely with the sweet and often humorous scenes that follow Desmond’s goofy attempts to woo Dorothy. Gibson does a wonderful job of contrasting the syrupy loveliness of home with the bleak wasteland of war in his quest to highlight the unspeakable horrors of battle.

Garfield gives possibly his best career performance to date; when he isn’t totally smitten with Palmer and smiling like a complete dork, you can see an intense, internal tug-of-war carving itself onto his face. Should he abandon his faith and take up arms to serve his country or stand his ground and stay true to himself? This complex battle of wits rattling around inside Garfield’s head is every bit as compelling as the skirmishes Gibson stages, and following The Social Network and 99 Homes, it establishes Garfield as one of the more underappreciated young actors working today.

Massive credit must also go to Weaving for his compelling turn as a bitter Great War veteran who is struggling with the reality of sending his sons off to war. Australia’s Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey and Rachel Griffiths also deliver notable performances as Desmond’s CO Captain Glover, fellow soldier Smitty and his distraught mother respectively.

All told, Gibson’s vision of war is so visceral and raw that it rivals Steven Spielberg’s iconic opening sequence from Saving Private Ryan for sheer shock value and gritty, mud stained immersion. The devastatingly gory violence is like something out of a horror movie, complete with jump scares, nightmarish dream sequences and a faceless enemy that isn’t really fleshed out.

One of the only real flaws with Hacksaw Ridge is the poor depiction of the Japanese soldiers. However, this is only a slight grumble. In all other aspects, the film is a technical marvel that combines excellent direction, cinematography, sound design and editing into one of the best war movies we’ve seen in a long, long time.

Hackshaw Ridge is available in Australian cinemas from November 3

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

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