Directed by Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge was based on the true story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss (played by The Amazing Spiderman’s Andrew Garfield), who refused to bear arms and fire a single shot in World War II. The WWII veteran would end up saving 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa, stamping his name in the history books as one of the bravest men to fight in a bloody war that killed nearly 90 million soldiers. The movie also stars Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), Sam Worthington (Avatar, Terminator Salvation), and Hugo Weaving (Transformers, V For Vendetta). Now, Hollywood is no stranger to war films. From Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, Dunkirk, or 1917, this very topic has covered how brutal, bloody, and damaging the war can be. Hacksaw Ridge has no issues with depicting the violence of these battles that have scarred and killed numerous men and women. Mel Gibson takes us into the thick of the chaos, bodies are blown to pieces, men are shot left and right, and the horrors of war exemplify why these men and women are some of the bravest people in our country. However, there’s a slightly different take on Hacksaw Ridge that truly separates itself from other war films. One of the biggest topics that the film covers is religion. It’s made clear from the beginning that the soldier understands the purpose of the war and has no issues with other men killing the enemy; however, after almost shooting his father in the heat of a confrontation, the soldier has no plans on touching a gun ever again.
Now, if there’s one criticism about the film, is that it doesn’t truly explore the nature of why Doss came to that conclusion. We don’t spend much time on Doss’s relationship with his parents, but we do understand that his father is an abusive prick. Diving more into his psyche following the confrontation with his father would’ve been helpful in understanding Doss’s mindset more clearly. However, it’s a slight nitpick as Doss’s motivation behind his actions are the unique prospect of a man bringing faith into a bloody and cruel war that’s rarely tackled when it comes to these types of movies. The film does an excellent job of exploring Doss’s spiritual message and tests his morals due to his fellow soldiers, who clearly think that he’s being a coward for not wanting to pick up a gun. As I previously stated, it doesn’t truly examine its subject matter. Being in a war does challenge a man’s faith as there’s all types of murder that takes place. I’m not going to get too political on this subject; however, it would’ve been nicer to see Doss grapple with the idea of even wanting to be on the battlefield in the first place.
He simply enlists himself into the army without any struggle over the possibility that he’ll have to kill a man. What made him arrive at that decision? Him having a fight with his father surely isn’t enough of a persuasion. The war between Doss and his own men does a nice job of padding out the tension until the soldiers get on the field. These guys need a man that they can trust on the battlefield, so it’s understanding why they don’t want him on their side. On one hand, you understand the side of the soldiers who don’t want to fight alongside Doss. This is a war and unfortunately, you need to get your hands bloody in order to win. All faith and religion are thrown out the window once a soldier hits the battlefield. Of course, these brave men and women understand the severe risk of death, but they’re not trying to commit suicide here. Thus, they want a soldier who’s going to have their back through thick and thin.
The focus on Hacksaw Ridge itself isn’t exactly on the war. Yeah, we experience the brutality through our eyes, but that’s not what the overall premise is about. To see a man carefully go through a battlefield and save 75 troops is an awe-inspiring feat. Of course, Doss is a human being too. What Garfield does so well is express the fear and boldness through Doss’s actions. Trying to save lives while bodies are being blown to pieces is a nerve-wracking moment that’s perfectly conveyed through Garfield’s body language. Hacksaw Ridge is by no means a perfect film. However, it showcases to audiences a different respective on religion and how those views are constantly challenged, making for a thrilling experience from beginning to end.