Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action to pull the audience in from a variety of angles. The result is powerfully visceral, catching us by surprise as it scares, moves and inspires us. As a director, Mel Gibson is great at telling vivid stories that evoke intense feelings. And Andrew Garfield delivers another remarkably internalised performance that resonates strongly.
As World War II rages, Desmond (Garfield) longs to leave his rural Virginia home to help with the fighting against Germany and Japan. But as an Adventist, he refuses to touch a weapon or fight on Sunday. He enlists anyway, and is mercilessly bullied for his pacifistic beliefs all the way through boot camp. His commanding officers (Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington) are especially hard on him, trying to force him to drop out. But his haggard WWI-veteran father (Hugo Weaving) makes a pointed plea for him to remain in the military. Eventually, his platoon is sent to fight on Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, where Desmond proves his bravery in ways no one expects.
This is one of those stories that we wouldn't believe if it weren't true (the film concludes with a documentary epilogue featuring interviews with the actual people). Gibson and his screenwriters continually ground scenes in tiny details that emphasise the realism, giving the actors plenty of gristle. The opening sequence on the farm is relentlessly corny Americana, with Garfield portraying a dorky bumpkin who falls for a sweet girl (Teresa Palmer) and heads naively off to war. But Garfield deepens the character with every scene, giving weight and meaning to the jaw-dropping climactic battlefield sequence. Among the supporting cast, Vaughn, Worthington and Weaving all get strong moments of their own, as do a few of Desmond's comrades. Although while Palmer and Griffiths (as Desmond's mother) are solid, there isn't much for them to do.
Continue reading: Hacksaw Ridge Review
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