Entertainment, Lifestyle, Review

Film Review: Hacksaw Ridge

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By Hannah Louise Phillips

The riveting World War Two epic Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield, tells the remarkable true story of the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honour: Desmond Doss. Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist, who single-handedly saved the lives of 75 of his fellow soldiers without ever firing a weapon.

The film begins 16 years ahead of the war in rural Virginia. This is where we discover that Doss’ opposition of violence arose from an event in his childhood where he almost killed his brother by attacking him with a brick. Gawky Doss’ good nature and medical skills are revealed when he saves a badly injured man by applying a tourniquet to his leg. This is when he meets and romances nurse Dorothy, played by Teresa Palmer.

Determined to serve their country, Doss and his brother join the army against the wishes of their drunk and abusive father (Hugo Weaving) who is still haunted by the memories of the First World War, unable to overcome the guilt of outliving the friends he fought alongside.

The film comes to life once Doss has enlisted. We see Doss and his camp mates bonding as they train and the squad are subjected to humiliating remarks from commanding officer Sergeant Howell, played by Vince Vaughn. As Howell orders, “Make sure you keep him away from strong winds,” referring to Doss’ skinny physique.

We are introduced to optimism, wisecracks and humorous machismo between the soldiers until they discover Doss’ refusal to participate in any violence. His faith is mistaken for cowardice and, under the encouragement of Sergeant Howell and no nonsense Captain Glover, played by Sam Worthington, he is subjected to bullying and beatings in an attempt to pressure him to leave the army.

Convinced that he doesn’t need to carry a weapon into battle in order to save lives, Doss refuses to abandon his beliefs. Despite the threat of a court martial and a desperate plea from his sweetheart, he goes into one of the bloodiest battles of World War II as an army medic without a gun.

Gibson doesn’t hold back when it comes to the battle scenes; he portrays the fight for Okinawa in all its gore and horror as we see the wisecracking squaddies shot down, blown up and incinerated by a flamethrower, the fighting scenes similar to those in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Bullets and grenades fly and within a few minutes body parts are littered across the battlefield.

Once the allies are forced to retreat, Doss refuses to leave, running back through the thick fog of smoke to his fallen comrades. One by one he brings back another injured solider and prays, “Please Lord, help me get one more.”

Gibson could have benefited from questioning the basis of Doss’ convictions a bit more and the first half of Hacksaw Ridge could have been less cliché but, all in all, the film deserved the six Oscar nominations it received, including Best Picture and Best Director. Garfield was mesmerising in his portrayal of the kind hearted and gentle Doss. In this war film about peace, Gibson juxtaposes devastating violence with compassion and sympathy.

The film ends with tape excerpts of the real life Desmond Doss, showing how accurately Garfield portrayed the humble and awkwardly charming hero.

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