Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge (2016)


(director: Mel Gibson; screenwriters: Andrew Knight/Robert Schenkkan; cinematographer: Simon Duggan; editor: John Gilbert; music: Rupert Gregson-Williams; cast: Andrew Garfield (Desmond Doss), Sam Worthington (Captain Glover), Luke Bracey (Smitty), Teresa Palmer (Dorothy Schutte), Hugo Weaving (Tom Doss), Rachel Griffiths (Bertha Doss), Vince Vaughn (Sgt. Howell), Richard Roxburgh (Colonel Stelzer), Nathaniel Buzolic (Harold Doss), Luke Pegler (Milt ‘Hollywood’ Zane), Ben Mingay (Grease Nolan), Nico Cortez (Wal Kirzinski), Ryan Corr (Lt. Manville), Jacob Warner (James Pinnick); Runtime: 139; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Bill Mechanic, David Permut, Terry Benedict, Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, Brian Oliver, William D. Johnson, Tyler Thompson; Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate; 2016)

A crowd-pleasing conventional war drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mel Gibson(“The Passion of the Christ”/”Apocalypto“) directs his first movie in the last ten-years. It was shot in Australia. He effectively tells the true story of the pacifist Pfc. Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who was a combat medic in the bloody Battle of Okinawa, at Hacksaw Ridge, where he won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite not carrying a weapon because of his Seventh-day Adventist belief not to kill. Doss became the first Conscientious Objector in American history to win that award. Offering God credit for his heroic acts, Doss risked his life to save 75 men in battle.

Gibson follows the Saving Private Ryan template for WWII films and gives us a crowd-pleasing conventional war drama, showing great skill in manipulating the viewer to see that for a good cause even a religious pacifist could side with the war effort. Writers Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan do a fine job of blending together emotional melodrama scenes with traumatic battle scenes.Doss grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and was raised by a self-loathing drunkard WWI vet father (Hugo Weaving) and a loving mother (Rachel Griffiths). After saving a life in a street accident, Doss meets at the city hospital the sweet nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) and falls in love on first sight. He then volunteers to serve in the medics with the condition he won’t carry a rifle as a conscientious objector. But when assigned to a combat rifle company, he is scorned by the men in his unit and faces a court martial unless he fires his rifle or quits the army. Through the help of a general his dad served under, Doss is dramatically allowed to be a combat medic and not carry a weapon. After about 75 minutes tracking the one-dimensional Doss’s back story, that includes marrying Dorothy, we get to the bloody and graphic war action at Hacksaw Ridge. Here Doss does his heroics and forgives those who persecuted him, even saving the captain who rode him the hardest. Garfield is appealing as the vulnerable heroic man of conscience. Vince Vaughn is striking as the bullying drill sergeant and Sam Worthington is credible as the hard-nosed battalion leader.

There’s no surprises and no subtlety, and no need to apologize for such an old-fashioned war film that’s handled with such efficiency. It once again confirms Gibson’s take on Christianity, that pain brings spiritual peace to the faithful. The most critical I care to be about the violent pacifist war drama, is that a more gifted and less conventional filmmaker than Gibson probably would have said something more unsettling about its true believer persecuted subject than trying to make him out to be such a hokey Jesus figure.