15 – 139mins – 2016
I have always struggled with war films. I just feel a disassociation from the genre which I have struggled to shake off. Maybe I never will. Nevertheless, the amount of love Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in over a decade has received (despite many a person’s reservations about his off-screen personality) has made Hacksaw Ridge hard to ignore. I saw the elongated runtime and grimaced, but having put aside my hesitations in a packed cinema this afternoon, I can confirm that the man they call ‘Mad Mel’ has won me over.
Half biographical melodrama, half visceral battle movie, Hacksaw Ridge tells the miraculous true story of World War II’s combat medic-cum-conscientious objector, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a devoted Christian who went from a traumatic childhood with a cruel father (Hugo Weaving) to barracks punch bag before winning his regiment’s respect as a single-handed saviour of over 75 men during the eponymous cliff-top dog-fight against the Japanese – and all without picking up a single weapon.
Former Spiderman Garfield is exceptional, leading a rich cast as the Virginian beanpole whose abhorrence of violence does not outweigh his sense of duty. While Weaving, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington turn in strong, hard-hitting performances as figures of authority frustrated by Doss’ refusal to pick up arms, it is Garfield’s determined vulnerability which brings heart and soul to the horrors of the front line. His romance with Teresa Palmer’s nurse is hearteningly touching, making the pain of his conscription plight all the more agonising.
The switch from dialogue-heavy drama to casualty-heavy horror is severe, potentially uncomfortable. I was continually shocked by how much injury detail is on show. As Doss’ unit scale the Maeda Escarpment during the Battle of Okinawa, actions and explosions dominate the script. As much as the first half brought tears to my eyes, Hacksaw Ridge’s extended closing sequences are equally likely to conjure heaves of revulsion. Mel pulls no punches, but his film is all the more powerful and affecting for it. Put aside your reservations and see this film on the big screen. Oscar glory surely awaits.
CR@B’s Claw Score: