In April 1945, Allied soldiers fought to take Hacksaw Ridge from Japanese troops. The ridge was vital to taking Okinawa and, eventually, to winning the war. After the 77th Infantry Division was torn apart and forced to retreat, Pvt. Desmond Doss, an army medic, stayed behind to rescue his wounded comrades. On that day, Doss saved an estimated 75 men from almost certain death, while under heavy fire from the enemy, without picking up a gun.
Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, captures the incredible true story of one man who, when millions were fighting and killing each other, set out to save as many as he could. The film wastes no time in setting the tone and does not attempt to sugarcoat the awful violence that occurred in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. In the first 10 minutes, the audience sees slow-motion shots of a horrific battlefield. Men are shot and blown to pieces, soldiers lie dead in piles, and fire from flamethrowers ignited troops, who scream for their lives. War is hell.
It then cuts to two young brothers playing in the mountains of Virginia. The boys begin to fight on the ground until one, whom we later learn is Doss, hits his brother in the head with a brick, knocking him unconscious. As the horrific realization that he could have killed his brother dawns on him, he stares at a picture of the Ten Commandments. Focusing in on “Thou shalt not kill,” the audience sees Doss’s powerful motivation not to cause any more suffering, though his brother did not die.
The movie jumps ahead 15 years to an adult Doss (Andrew Garfield) working in his church. He hears shouts for help and finds a man in the road pinned under his car. The man is badly wounded in the leg, and Doss fashions a makeshift tourniquet from his belt. He rides with the man to the hospital, where he meets his future wife, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), who is working there as a nurse. Soon, the war is in full swing and Doss signs up. He wants to be a medic so he can serve his country and his fellow man while keeping his vow to never harm anyone again. Doss then goes to boot camp, where he is ostracized and shamed by his superiors. They attempt to get him discharged. Nothing works to deter the unstoppable will of Doss, and he ends up on the front lines of the war in the Pacific.
There are no wasted scenes in this movie. Every frame adds to the heart and the gravity of the film, and the emotional impact the events have on the characters reverberates through the hearts of the audience. The events depicted would be unbelievable if it were not for the actual footage of an elderly Doss speaking about his actions at the end. What Doss does in the few days of the battle shown on screen is simply incredible. Hacksaw Ridge is not at all shy about showing the violence that occurred in this battle. Soldiers are riddled with bullets, men are shot in the head without warning, and the death and destruction presented are horrifying. Yet the violence never feels gratuitous. Instead, the audience is given a glimpse into the hell that was the war in the Pacific. To watch Doss save a wounded man, abandoned on the battlefield, and then go back into the fighting to save more is awe-inspiring. The sheer strength of this man’s will is palpable, especially with his repetition of, “Please Lord, help me get one more. Help me get one more,” after every rescue.
The cast of Hacksaw Ridge all turn in an amazing performance, Garfield steals the show as Doss. There is one minor character that absolutely knocks it out of the park. Doss’s father Tom (Hugo Weaving) is an alcoholic WWI veteran haunted by memories of his fallen friends. The performance he gives is stunning and award-worthy. Other exceptional characters are Smitty Ryker (Luke Bracey), Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn), and Capt. Glover (Sam Worthington).
Hacksaw Ridge is a fantastic, if sobering, movie. There are no faults to find upon first viewing of this achievement in storytelling. Anyone that can stand graphic violence based in reality should see this heartfelt and impactful film, depicting one of America’s finest heroes.
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