If you don’t like blood, slow-motion, or Vince Vaughn in a serious role, then you won’t like Hacksaw Ridge. It’s Mel Gibson’s first film since Apocalypto, and I’m not sure he even knew what he was making. It’s quite the war film in that its choreographed violence is impeccably bleak, while its moments of spirituality are brightly lit and sincere. Then you’ve got Private Private Parts, a naked guy going through basic training. What is happening?
The story is a true one, based on the early life and service of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an Army Medic in World War II who refused to carry a weapon. It’s disappointing the start of the film shows Doss in battle – it makes the “suspense” of his trials during basic training (literal and figurative) rather mute. But as we see him grow from a boy to a man, a boyfriend to a husband, and a trainee to a medic, we develop feelings for this conscientious objector and that helps make what seems too good to be true exciting to watch. The breathtakingly gruesome portion of the film portrays the Battle of Okinawa, which took place on Hacksaw Ridge (get it?) – essentially a cliff. After battle, American soldiers climbed down, but Doss stayed and saved 75 men. While in reality this heroic act led Doss to receive a Medal of Honor, a condensed film version showing Garfield dodging literally every bullet, grenade, and countless Japanese soldiers in a tunnel takes away from the awe of it all. I would’ve been thrilled to see just three lives miraculously saved by Doss, but Gibson seems to show all 75. Well, maybe 50. But the montage was a lot of the same, and I left feeling underwhelmed. It doesn’t help that we never see Doss train to be a medic (beyond reading a book on arteries and veins from his then-girlfriend Dorothy [Teresa Palmer]), and when he does save these men it always started with, “Put pressure on it!” Perhaps this is accurate but with the often corny creative liberties Gibson did take, why not add something Grey’s Anatomy worthy?
Ending with real footage alongside what can best be described as iMovie style, viewers are reminded of what an authentic story Ridge tells. At a time when emotions, beliefs, and opinions seem to be simultaneously more valued and divisive than ever, the tale of a man defending his conscious while supporting the greater good is interesting to watch. Because of this, and Garfield’s potential Oscar nom, see Ridge. Or skip the blood spewing and slow-mo fog and read up on Doss.