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Hacksaw Ridge - DVD Review

Hacksaw Ridge

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

MEL Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is a predictably violent Second World War film based around the astonishing true story of Army medic Desmond Doss. But it’s also a surprisingly thoughtful tale, steeped in the conflict between religious belief and military might.

Doss was a conscientious objector who refused to bear arms, even in combat. He nevertheless saved the lives of over 75 men at Hacksaw Ridge, aka the Battle of Okinawa, and earned himself the Congressional Medal of Honor .

Gibson’s film charts Doss’s rise from a childhood marked by an abusive, drunken father (Hugo Weaving, still bearing the mental scars of losing friends during WW1), and a traumatic incident involving a weapon, to his whirlwind romance with a nurse (Teresa Palmer), through to his military training, during which he was picked on for his beliefs and bullied.

The final third of the film, however, is all about the battlefield, as Doss sets about his mission with grit and determination, while all around him are blown to bits by Japanese mortars or shredded by machine gun fire. This being a film by Mel Gibson, the sequence is extremely graphic, recalling the director’s similarly blood-thirsty work on The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto.

But here, the violence seems appropriate; a hell on Earth designed to test the metal of even the most hardened believer. Doss is unwavering. Selfless. Tireless. It’s an inspiring journey.

And yet Gibson’s film does pose questions. Doss may be held up, eventually, as a hero but the film never loses sight of the heroism also required to actually fight a war, often against insurmountable odds. And while never condoning the initially bullying tactics of Doss’s superiors (played with conviction by Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn), the screenplay – jointly written by Robert Schenkkan and Randall Wallace and polished by Andrew Knight – has plenty to say about the need to take up arms against enemies of freedom.

Hacksaw Ridge therefore rates as a film that’s as much pro-heroism and pro-military as it is one that celebrates the power of the individual spirit and religious conviction.

It’s ironic, therefore, that one of its biggest criticisms stems from the conflict this also creates within itself as a movie. For while Gibson doesn’t flinch from the horror of war, he can sometimes be accused of occasionally employing the type of directorial flourishes that Michael Bay would be crucified for using. We’re talking slow-motion focusing on firing machine guns, or tokenistic nods to Japanese rituals set to over-bearing music. Such moments – while fleeting – threaten to undermine proceedings.

Another of the film’s big plus points, however, is the central performance of Andrew Garfield, whose portrayal of Doss is impeccable. Whether steadfastly standing up for his beliefs in the face of physical and verbal abuse, or remaining calm in the midst of battle, Garfield is an endearing, engaging and fascinating presence, whose resolve is unwavering.

And while there’s notable support from the likes of Worthington, Vaughn and Palmer, this is Garfield’s film and he is more than worth his Oscar nomination.

Hacksaw Ridge therefore rates as a triumphant return for Gibson, the director, in the way that it celebrates heroic endeavour and sacrifice while delivering an often wince-inducing insight into the horror of combat. It is the type of robust filmmaking we have long come to expect – and admire – from Gibson.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 139mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: May 15, 2017