Phhhhfffwwoaaahhhhh… That’s the only noise I could muster as I left the cinema post screening of Hacksaw Ridge. I had no words, overcome with awe and satisfaction. When I heard it received a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes earlier this year the question was raised “What’s worth clapping for that long?” Perhaps from the audience it was less an adulatory applause and more a relief, finally – perhaps there’s still a chance 2016 has a glimmer of hope for movie making, because Hacksaw Ridge is one for the books.
To compare it to Saving Private Ryan is the most apt in terms of depth and emotional gravitas. The biggest difference being instead of opening the film with D-Day as Spielberg’s classic did, Mel Gibson has masterfully crafted Hacksaw Ridge by using the first half of the film set in the United States, following Desmond Doss and introducing his life, his family and himself. Slowly creeping to that inevitable enlisting for World War II, but revealing motivation and backstory initially, so when the battle scenes hit mid-way through; you are simply gob-smacked.
Andrew Garfield plays Doss, a kind and gentle God-fearing man, who falls in love with Teresa Palmer’s Dorothy Schutte, but soon realizes – as many able bodied men did during World War II – that he must enlist to defend his country, however under one provision; he refuses to kill, use, or even hold a weapon. He is a staunch believer in the 12 commandments and this draws not only the ire of his commanding officers but his platoon and fellow soldiers who regard him more of a coward than a man sticking to his values and principles.
After being court-martialed for his defiance against direct orders, he is permitted to join the war, despite his family’s vehement protests. What follows is a graphic, violent and bloody depiction of ‘Hell on Earth’: body parts and organs strewn across battlefields, rats and maggots eating flesh, explosions and shellshock… no detail is left spare, as we are enveloped by an orgy of gore. And in the middle of it all is combat medic Desmond Doss, softly spoken, innocent and as he soon proves, one of the most brave men to never fight in the War.
Hacksaw Ridge is thrilling, emotional, captivating, well shot, well written, well acted and oh so refreshing. Not a sequel, not a reboot, not a comic book movie, but a real true story that exists with a message and resonation. Mel Gibson knows how to make a movie, and despite its many glowing reviews, it’s predicted to flop at the cinemas – so to anyone who misses this, it is your loss. He shot this in Australia (and sometimes it’s painfully obvious) so this is a win for the Aussies, using local cast and crew. Plus it’s a war movie that doesn’t go for four hours, and that is always appreciated.