Hacksaw Ridge, 2016.
Directed by Mel Gibson.
Starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, and Vince Vaughn.
The World War II movie Hacksaw Ridge, which tells the story of a conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, who achieved heroic feats on the battlefield as a medic despite not carrying a weapon, arrives on home video in a Blu-ray + DVD set that also includes a code for a digital copy. While the bonus features are slight, the making-of documentary does an excellent job of charting the course of a movie that took a long time to come together.
As someone who’s long had an armchair historian’s interest in World War II, I was intrigued by Hacksaw Ridge, which tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector who nonetheless wanted to serve his country as a medic.
However, Doss insists on serving while not carrying a rifle. When he asserts that desire during basic training, his commanding officers, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), don’t see how he can possibly be of service to his unit and attempt to get him drummed out of the service. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that they fail and Doss goes on to perform feats of heroic courage during the horrific fighting on Okinawa in the Pacific Ocean.
Roughly the first half of the movie focuses on Doss’s pre-fighting life, as he deals with his angry alcoholic father, Tom (Hugo Weaving), a World War I veteran who doesn’t want to see his two sons join the fighting. He also meets a nurse, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), and the two plan to marry before he leaves overseas.
Doss’ struggles during basic training make up the bulk of the first half of the story. While Andrew Garfield does an admirable job of transforming his “aw shucks” character into a man of steadfast conviction who runs a brutal gauntlet to prove his worth, Vince Vaughn feels out of place in every scene. Even later, during the fighting on Okinawa, Vaughn is the only one who I couldn’t buy as a tough-as-nails soldier in a life-or-death struggle.
The battle scenes realistically convey the brutality of the fighting on Okinawa, which was the worst in the Pacific, in terms of American casualties. It’s incredible that Doss survived those horrors without the aid of a weapon, and director Mel Gibson notes during the accompanying documentary that Doss did some other things in real life that aren’t in the movie because audiences would have assumed they were fabricated to puff up the story.
However, there are many stretches during the battle scenes where Doss disappears from the action and Gibson chooses to focus more on the other characters, who are nowhere near as interesting. While I can understand the motivation for that, since Doss was a medic who was waiting for his chance to run in and help wounded men, it would have been nice if we had seen more of the fighting from his point-of-view.
The film closes with some interviews with the real Doss and his commanding officer, which were pulled from a documentary made about him before he died in 2006. It’s a nice touch that reminded me of Band of Brothers, which features interviews with the soldiers depicted in that series at the end of each episode.
Hacksaw Ridge’s home video release features a Blu-ray + DVD set, along with a code for a digital copy of the film. Both discs contain 4.5 minutes of deleted scenes, along with Gibson’s one-minute Veterans’ Day tribute to those who have served in the military.
The Blu-ray also features an excellent 69-minute documentary, The Soul of War: Making Hacksaw Ridge, which covers the film’s long journey to the silver screen. Producer Bill Mechanic searched for several years before lining up the right situation in which he could bring Doss’s story to life without sacrificing too much in the process (for example, one studio insisted on a “soft PG-13” movie). Mechanic, Gibson, and the cast were interviewed for it, along with Doss’s son and both screenwriters, Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan.
I wouldn’t put Hacksaw Ridge among the top World War II movies ever made, but it’s a competently made film that’s worth a rental, if the subject matter interests you.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★