“Everyone has a conscience and must follow it.”
–Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta
This is my review of Hacksaw Ridge!
Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of my new favorite American hero, Desmond Doss, a medic during World War II who, influenced by his Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs, refused to use and even touch a gun, instead choosing to save as many wounded soldiers as he could. He would later go on to become the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Andrew Garfield–wow, man–I have grossly underestimated you. With a thoughtful performance, Garfield portrays Desmond Doss as, essentially, a real-life Captain America; brave but vulnerable, noble and flawed, and grounded in his convictions. I’d also like to add that this is a balanced portrayal of a Christian character. Often times, a mistake that is typically made in Pure Flix films (both the God’s Not Dead flicks and, to an extent, Do You Believe?) is a Christian character is all good simply because they wear the Christian label. Hacksaw Ridge allows Desmond to be a three-dimensional human being who is a pacifist and a devout Christian. I really appreciate that this movie doesn’t have him convert anybody because let’s be honest: That’s just not how life works, especially in our cynical, secular society. Desmond doesn’t convert anyone to his way of thinking, but he does rightfully earn the respect and admiration of his peers simply for staying true to who he is.
Also, kudos to Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington, both of whom actually deliver pretty darn good performances, especially Vaughn, who I’ve only seen in crummy comedies. Hugo Weaving does a great job too, but then again, of course he would. I have yet to see a subpar performance from him.
This movie handles subtlety masterfully. Elements of Desmond’s past are revealed through quick but well-placed flashbacks that are intercut with present day. There is one particular flashback that explains his no-guns philosophy, but it’s not shoved down your throat; it only shows up three times and it makes everything come full circle once Desmond himself explains it to another character.
In an election year where many people had to wrestle with their conscience at the voting booth, Desmond Doss is living proof that you can obey your conscience and remain loyal to it through thick and thin. Is it incredibly difficult to do so? Absolutely. Is it impossible? No. Desmond Doss is a witness to standing your ground and not being shaken when the storm comes.
Okay, there’s one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed: There’s a scene in the climax where Desmond actually KICKS a grenade away from a fellow soldier. Yeah…that’s stretching it a bit thin, don’t you think? Look, I already know he’s a hero; you don’t need to have him roundhouse-kick a grenade to further prove that.
Admittedly, parts of the story are cliché. There is a “rogue little guy versus big bad establishment” undertone of the film, but that’s to be expected given the nature of the story. They try to make a villain out of Luke Bracey’s character Smitty Riker, but from his very first scene you already know what his character arch is going to be; he doesn’t like Desmond, then he really doesn’t like Desmond. Desmond saves Smitty, Smitty is (emotionally) disarmed and the two become friends. That’s not a spoiler, by the way; it’s just really predictable.
Guys and gals, I really hope that Hacksaw Ridge gets nominated for something, anything, because this is a powerful movie. This is one of the few movies where I found myself admiring the main character. What we have is the portrait of a hero who focused his energy on saving lives, even if it meant getting Hell from his superiors for his stance. With a respectful performance from Andrew Garfield, excellent direction from Mel Gibson and an emphasis on standing your ground even if it means standing alone, Hacksaw Ridge shows us what a hero looks like.
Saint Martin of Tours, pray for us.