Hacksaw Ridge offers a technically accomplished and realistic portrayal of war for audience looking for visceral thrills, but it’s a self-indulgent tribute that falls into the trap of mythmaking.

In Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun.

Mel Gibson makes a directorial comeback to redeem his tainted reputation behind the camera. Similar to his previous works, Hacksaw Ridge is a religious and violent film.

It’s impossible to make an anti-war movie without portraying the horrors of combat (see: Grave of the Fireflies) but Gibson manages to use this juxtaposition to his advantage. As the audience sees 101 ways that a soldier can get killed in a battlefield there’s odd pacifist hero Desmond Doss, pulling wounded soldiers in the midst of the carnage regardless of triage. Gibson’s skill behind the camera and his ability to turn plot into a narrative elevates Hacksaw Ridge as more than a religious movie.

Camerawork, cinematography, and practical effects all work together to showcase a ruthlessly realistic portrayal of violence that even death offers no reprieve as rats turn corpses to dinner. The action remains clear throughout as Gibson knows how to frame moments that you know where the characters are, even though everyone is moving around at the same time.

According to history books, Doss saved 75 wounded soldiers. Andrew Garfield portrays the true to life hero with reverence. When the combat medic runs to the kill zone and find the wounded, we see a soldier who wants to save lives rather than just a stubborn religious country boy who claims to be a pacifist yet enters the most violent occupation ever. The rest of the cast also did well, but Vince Vaughn is badly miscast in this movie.

There is no doubt that Hacksaw Ridge is an immersive war movie but falls short of being a combat drama as it devolves into mythmaking.

After a corny backstory the movie plays it safe, never really challenging the predicament that its hero has created – when push comes to shove, would Desmond pull the trigger to save others and himself or still stick to his beliefs? Instead the consequences of his own brand of patriotism boils down to a neatly wrapped up courtroom battle and he’s protected throughout by divine intervention. In one scene, a sniper appears only to prove this point as a bullet grazes the top of his helmet.

This movie is influenced by the personality behind it as much as it benefits from the director to whom it belongs – the christian persecution, the alcoholic abusive father who isn’t really bad, women as props (Desmond has more chemistry with Smitty than his wife and yes they’re now a being shipped in Tumblr), and graphic violence bordering on glorification.

Flaws aside, Hacksaw Ridge is still a technically accomplished movie when judged solely by what it offers – combat realism and a great performance by Andrew Garfield.  At the least, it manages to show that man’s finest hour appears at the most desperate moments.

My Rating: 7/10

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