Susan Granger’s review of “Hacksaw Ridge” (Lionsgate)
Featuring the most brutal wartime carnage since “Saving Private Ryan,” director Mel Gibson depicts a true-life biopic about a pacifist, a man whose unconventional beliefs made him a pariah among his peers.
Raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, idealistic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) enlists in the U.S. Army during W.W.II as a medic – to save lives.
A conscientious objector, he refuses to use a weapon, which confuses his tough drill Sergeant (Vince Vaughn) and infuriates other recruits in his barracks. Refusing to quit boot camp, pious Doss is threatened with a court martial because he won’t obey Army regulations.
Then his platoon is shipped out to the Pacific island of Okinawa, where they’re ordered to take Hacksaw Ridge, a steep, 35-foot cliff upon which the Japanese have been hunkered down in bunkers.
Complete with flamethrowers and flying bodies, savage battles ensue, after which Dawes reveals remarkable courage. Instead of retreating, he stays atop the Ridge for five hours, bravely retrieving one wounded comrade after another, praying, “Lord, help me get just one more…”
Following “The Man Without a Face,” “Braveheart, “The Passion of the Christ” and “Apocalypto,” this is Gibson’s fifth film as director, and there’s no denying his talent as he places this avowed pacifist amid a bloody spectacle.
Although it’s often difficult separating the artist from his work, one might interpret casting Jewish Andrew Garfield as an act of atonement for Gibson’s virulent anti-Semitic ranting. Plus, there’s an obvious connection with war-obsessed Gibson, since his father moved the family to Australia to avoid his sons being drafted to serve in Vietnam.
Working from Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan’s cliché-riddled script, Gibson elicits fine performances, including Teresa Palmer as Dawes’ wife, Hugo Weaving as Dawes’ alcoholic father and Rachel Griffiths as his abused mother
The conclusion is lifted from Terry Benedict’s documentary “The Conscientious Objector” (2004).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hacksaw Ridge” is an intense, viscerally stunning 7. Idealized and idiosyncratic, it illuminates the first conscientious objector awarded the Medal of Honor.