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Movie Review: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Booms with Brutality, Faith and Pacifism

Hacksaw Ridge is brutal, emotional and poignant. Read our full movie review to get the details:

As I watched Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge in a packed theater, the reaction was similar to that of The Passion of the Christ. The audience and I were on the edge of our seats, wincing with each explosion/gunshot and gasping at the aftermath. One woman flat out screamed in terror when a swarm of Japanese soldiers launched a surprise attack, shooting and gutting American soldiers.

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‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is brutally graphic.

These war scenes are violent, gory, disgusting and shocking, portrayed with the same grisly nature as Passion. It’s a suitable comparison the way Gibson seems to understand martyrdom and faith to a degree that he can make us understand as well.

Such themes are important when adapting the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a boy who signs on to be a medic during World War II. He despises guns and has dedicated his life to pacifism after his rocky experience of violence within his own family. His father (Hugo Weaving) despises him entering the military as he’s served before and doesn’t want his children to experience the same terror he faced. Desmond’s aware of the danger having nearly killed his brother during a scuffle, but his father ensures him he’s not the least bit prepared.

Clutching close to the Bible, he vows non-violence during his training, objecting to taking part in rifle practice. His drill instructor, played with an offbeat tone by Vince Vaughn, tries to shame and later beg him to leave. Everyone in his unit despises his choice to the point of being beaten to a pulp and encouraged to quit basic training. But Doss believes he can still do well on the battlefield without firing a single bullet and keeps at it. A soldier mocks him for the value of turning the other cheek as Doss does just that when taking a beating. His convictions are so strong that you want to see this smiling little dork pull through.

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Andrew Garfield stands his ground against his comrades.

The only one who seems to stick by his side is his fiancée nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). She can’t help but fall for the lovable stumbling of Doss as he hopelessly tries to woo with his corny pickup lines and awkward attempts at romance. Their love is cute. But Dorothy’s loyalty to stick with such a man, even when stubbornly refusing to do something as simple as fire a rifle under threat of military prison, becomes such an important aspect of his drive, despite being mostly absent from Hacksaw Ridge. He keeps her picture as a bookmark in his Bible, thinking of both her and God while saving lives. I guess it doesn’t hurt to stack the deck with inspiration.

Aside from his faith, Doss’ pacifist nature plays a powerful role throughout, pressuring him at every turn to take the easy route in war. There are several points during the operation where he is told that he’s done enough and should pull out. And yet he sticks around until he’s retrieved every wounded soldier on the battlefield. Dragging each to the edge of a cliff and lowering them down with his own bruised hands and back, he presses on with a quick prayer in between to save one more soldier. He’d retrieve another, pray again and head back into the field crawling with Japanese soldiers slaughtering the survivors. He ended up saving about 75 lives. God was generous to him that day.

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Desmond Doss saves one person at a time.

Though Gibson does become a bit too obsessed with the Battle of Hacksaw Ridge, favoring scene after scene of blood gushing and limbs flying, he still gets the message across as bluntly as it should be relayed. War is not a glossy bit of PG-13 action and, though we’ve seen similar sequences in other R-Rated war pictures, it’s a message that bears repetition.

There’ll never be a more memorable war scene of relentless brutality than Saving Private Ryan, but it never hurts to have a little refresher about the horrors of war where death and despair come often and without notice. I could do without the slow motion of soldiers burning alive and flying through the sky. There’s enough shock in such scenes that such a gimmick feels unneeded.

Read more for the rest of the movie review and to watch the trailer for Hacksaw Ridge:

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