This review was written for CBCP CINEMA. Check out full ratings here.
“While everybody else is taking life, I’m going to be saving it. With a world so set on tearing itself apart, it doesn’t seem such a bad thing to want to put a little bit of it back together.”
These words sum up the true story of Private Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector (or conscientious cooperator, as he puts it) during World War II, brilliantly portrayed by Andrew Garfield (of The Amazing Spiderman fame) in Hacksaw Ridge. Like all young men of his time, Desmond enlists to serve his country despite the protests of his father Tom (Hugo Weaving), an alcoholic and wife-beater who is a World War I veteran himself. An earlier experience has turned Desmond into a pacifist and now, training as an army medic, he refuses to carry a gun, not even in rifle training.
This doesn’t sit well with Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn), his commanding officer, his company and the army leaders. Ridiculed, bullied and beaten up as a coward he holds on to his principles even when this leads to imprisonment and court martial. His faith in God as a Seventh Day Adventist and the unwavering support of his beautiful wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) empowers this simple, ordinary man to do extraordinary things during the Battle of Okinawa. He was the first soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor without using a weapon.
Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s comeback vehicle after a 10-year-hiatus proving that he still has the chops. With effortless mastery Gibson balances the elements of the film from the opening scene to the closing credits. We are shown the sweet innocence of love between Desmond and Dorothy, his religious upbringing, and the circumstances of his choices. Dark violence builds up until the viewer is shocked with the horrors of war through excellent cinematography, well-choreographed battle scenes and a fittingly moving musical score. The inspiring true story of Desmond Doss comes to life through outstanding characterization of the lead actors (Garfield, Weaving and Vaughn) and the rest of the cast, each fitting their role like a glove. Garfield essays the unlikely hero with such honesty, conviction and passion you can’t help but root for him even if you disagree with his principles. Hacksaw Ridge is a wonderful addition to World War films, but it is like no other. Why? Because it shows that the valor of man lies not in aggression and dominance but in faith, love and self-sacrifice without being preachy.
The opening scene sets the tone of the film as we see the conflagration of battle and hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Have you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom… those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles…”
We see Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist, reading the Bible in many occasions and we know he has been praying because he lived by the tenets of his faith. He stood up for God’s command not to kill by refusing to bear arms. Pressured to abandon his convictions, he tells Dorothy: “I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.” And in his darkest moment on the battlefield, he talks to God: “I don’t understand… I can’t hear you…” He then hears the wounded soldiers’ call for help and one by one he courageously rescues them to safety, putting his life on the line. By doing so, he not only saves 75 of his companions but inspires the rest of the company to subdue the enemy. Doss’ heroism echo Jesus’ words: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
As our country and the rest of world grow weary of reports from more than a hundred ongoing conflicts, Hacksaw Ridge jolts us by showing the brutal, gruesome, horrific and relentless violence of war. This is what war veterans suffered and what those in uniform go through. And while some may be reduced by war to act like animals, it also calls for the highest virtues of human beings exemplified by Desmond Doss. By being true to himself and relying on God, he saved lives, including the enemies. Hacksaw Ridge challenges us: Are we ready to stand up for our faith? Are we willing to suffer for it? Can we serve our fellow human beings? Unconditionally? In short, are we ready to truly love?