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In our jaded world, we continue to search for heroes and when we hear of true heroism from ordinary people, it begs our attention. The soldiers of World War Two continue to provide rich fields of courage under fire and none quite compare to the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield).
Growing up in Virginia during the depression era moulded Desmond’s very existence. Through his relationship with his father and brother, the young Virginian learnt to defend himself, through the love of his mother he grew to know the importance of family and through his faith as a Seventh Day Adventist, this young man developed a sanctity of life. Desmond’s father being a veteran of World War One and still suffering from the memories associated with its horrors caused continual turmoil in the Doss household. Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) opposed the Second World War, but his sons still chose to enlist despite his opposition.
In the process of enlisting, Desmond made a choice to be a military medic, thinking that this would allow him to live as a conscientious objector, not be required to hold a weapon and still serve his country. This naive view ultimately leads him through great trials within the Army itself and his platoon. Even through the threat of a court marshall and regular physical abuse, Desmond perseveres and was allowed to serve in the South Pacific conflict. Hacksaw Ridge continues his journey as a medic on the island of Okinawa and the heroic acts that led to his eventual winning of the Congressional Medal of Honour.
Desmond Doss’ story has been told many time over the years through books, television and even a comic book, but this is the first dramatic depiction of his life as a soldier on the big screen. It is a film about a man of faith, but this should not be mistaken as a ‘faith-based’ film. Mel Gibson (The Passion of the Christ) brings forward this captivating story without sacrificing the faith of the central character or minimising the horrors of war. Gibson manages the direction of Hacksaw Ridge with a measured approach in light of both of these areas. He shows the faith of this young man and incorporates how it influences all that he chose to do, but Gibson does not hold back in depicting the battle scenes. The realistic use of extreme special effects accurately depicts the impact on these soldiers.
This aspect of the film should be a subtle warning that this film is not for the faint of heart. Yet, this Academy Award winning director chooses to minimize the depiction of other areas of the military lifestyle by having virtually no foul language or sexual content. Like Chariots of Fire, this is compelling biographical sketch that has at it’s heart a man of faith who takes a stand, but continues to find a unique way of serving his country.
Coming off his strong performance in 99 Homes, Andrew Garfield continues to prove that he has more to offer the cinematic world than his role as Spider-Man. His commitment to the role was evident and his performance provides the very heart of Desmond Doss’ story and brings it to life. Gibson has surrounded Garfield with a stellar cast who give the same level of conviction to getting this his story right on screen. Hugo Weaving is exceptional in his portrayal of Thomas Doss and Vince Vaughn as Sergeant Howell gives one the best performances of his career. It could be said that some of the roles were a mere cliche of the era, but the direction gives room for all of these characters to have a place on screen. Gibson has done well in picking the right cast members and proving his exceptional skill at telling historical dramas.
Regardless of people’s faith convictions, Hacksaw Ridge is a story worth seeing. The graphic nature of the war scenes may cause some to give it a miss and it needs to be said that this is not a film for young children. For all other ages, Desmond Doss’ story is one to engage with and this depiction of his life ranks as one of the best films of 2016.