It’s certain that many were hesitant to be too hopeful for Mel Gibson’s newest feature, having left 10 years since his last (Apocalypto), and a particularly turbulent decade it was. Nevertheless now he’s back, presenting the world with Hacksaw Ridge, the story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who volunteered for service but his beliefs did not allow for using weapons or taking a life, when everyone believed him to be a coward, he stayed true to himself and went into the hellfire of Okinawa, becoming the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor, without firing a single shot.
The introduction of Andrew Garfield as Doss is a hopeful one, a young man full of curiosity and vivacity, and once he claps eyes on Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), overflowing with love; his gigantic grin and loyal manner give you an instant connection with his character, especially considering you know things are going to get hard for him very soon. As Doss becomes tested, his beliefs a thing of ridicule and he’s pushed to his very limits yet determined to stick to them, this is when we see Garfield shine on screen, after getting a chance to stretch his dramatic muscles in 99 Homes, they come in full force in Hacksaw Ridge and it’s an extremely impressive, satisfying performance. As for his co-stars, the next person you have to talk about is Vince Vaughan, whereas his usual performances may leave you rolling your eyes, this time he’s a lovable hard-ass who will learn to respect this young man trying to stick to his principles, it’s certainly a pleasant change of pace and he performs well. Adding to that there’s a whole host of young male actors who together make up a solid team that, although the film centres on Garfield’s character, manages to evoke that strong feeling of being a unit, it’s not one single man, it’s a group working together.
Now there is the more questionable performance, possibly revered by some but also possibly a massively wrong casting choice: Hugo Weaving as Tom Doss, Desmond’s alcoholic veteran Father who struggles with the horrors of what he’s seen. While Weaving is a good actor, he’s completely out of place to play a strong American male, it simply isn’t as convincing as it should be, if it included a comical or fantasy element, he could pull it off but such a distraught and volatile character just doesn’t work for him and it’s a glaring weak link in an otherwise solid film. As we move from the US to Okinawa, Gibson’s style comes into full force; an unforgiving, relentless onslaught of violence and to put it simply, guts. Such visceral scenes to be quite abruptly shoved into your eyes, might not be everyone’s cup of tea but you know what? It’s absolutely fantastic, it immerses you in the sheer horror of what these men went through, it’s hard not to sit there and contemplate the insanity of the world getting to the point where it felt the need to just absolutely slaughter each other. It makes the film something more than one man’s story and it’s devastating yet thrilling to watch because you won’t be able to look away. The cinematography of it again, may not be to everyone’s tastes but it is very effective, especially aided by score that may not be perfect but hits the right notes in pivotal moments; all the aspects of the film come together superbly when it counts.
The effectiveness becomes evident when, while watching you become so immersed that sudden noises are ever so slightly frightening, making you jump at a gun shot within a quiet moment. It may not have the charm of La La Land or the emotional depth of Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight but Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful film and a worthy contender this awards season; and though Garfield’s odds of winning are not overly high, it shouldn’t diminish what is his best performance to date and a worthy portrayal of such a brave man.