When Desmond Doss (Darcy Bryce, Andrew Garfield) was young he got into a fight with his brother , Hal (Roman Guerrero, Nathaniel Buzcolic) and hit him in the head with a rock. Desmond prays for Hal’s recovery and he eventually recovered. Desmond’s father, Tom, (Hugo Weaving) is a World War I veteran, but he is also an alcoholic, who beats Desmond’s mother, and threatens her with a gun. One of these altercations almost ends with Desmond shooting Tom, and so Desmond becomes a pacifist and vows never to touch a gun again. At the same time that Desmond is realizing his pacifism, World War II is raging in the Pacific, and Desmond wants to join the fight as a medic. There is no law against contentious objectors joining the military, but Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) conspire to get Desmond discharged on a section 8, but Desmond is not crazy. Later, the military ties to court-martial him for insubordination, for refusing to carry a firearm. Does Desmond beat the court-martial?
Hacksaw Ridge is a story well worth telling, about a pacifist who still wants to serve his country by healing soldiers and not killing people. But instead of making Desmond a hero, the writers make Desmond a superhero, he is perfect, faultless, and blameless in every way, and that makes Desmond too good to be true, and the rest of the characters are stereotypes of solders that are overdone in films. The Sergeant is loud, and overbearing, the Captain just wants Desmond out of his hair. All of Desmond’s fellow privates deride Desmond and haze him for his religious beliefs, and the Japanese are nothing more than screaming dehumanized hoards.
Andrew Garfield does as well as he can with this role. He is boxed in by the writing, Garfield is only allowed to show anger at his fellow soldiers once in the whole film. And he overcompensates with his Southern accent to hide his British accent. Vince Vaughn plays Sergeant Howell like Sergeant Carter of Gomer Pyle fame, barking out orders and heaping abuse on helpless privates. Vaughn should really stick to comedies, at least he has shown he can be funny. Sam Worthington struggles the most with his British accent, and that neutralizes the effectiveness of his character. Hugo Weaving is given the most complex character to play, and he does it well, he stands out in a relatively small role.
Mel Gibson directed this movie and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work. I’m not sure he deserved a nomination. The pacing was slow, and he didn’t edit enough. His overuse of a certain special effect became an annoyance. Gibson was visually trying to prove that war was a dirty, bloody, hell on earth. But the violence was staggering and the level of violence was repellant. If Gibson had stuck with the story of Desmond Doss the pacifist during World War II, and cut down on the eye popping violence, Hacksaw Ridge would have been a better film.
Hacksaw Ridge: Mel Gibson does a hack job as a director.