Hacksaw Ridge

In our jaded world, we continue to search for heroes and when we hear of true heroism from ordinary people, it begs our attention. The soldiers of World War Two continue to provide rich fields of courage under fire and none quite compare to the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield).

Growing up in Virginia during the depression era moulded Desmond’s very existence. Through his relationship with his father and brother, the young Virginian learnt to defend himself, through the love of his mother he grew to know the importance of family and through his faith as a Seventh Day Adventist, this young man developed a sanctity of life. Desmond’s father being a veteran of World War One and still suffering from the memories associated with its horrors caused continual turmoil in the Doss household. Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) opposed the second World War, but his sons still chose to enlist despite his opposition.

In the process of enlisting, Desmond made a choice to be a military medic, thinking that this would allow him to live as a conscientious objector, not be required to hold a weapon and still serve his country. This naive view ultimately leads him through great trials within the Army itself and his platoon. Even through the threat of a court marshall and regular physical abuse, Desmond perseveres and was allowed to serve in the South Pacific conflict. Hacksaw Ridge continues his journey as a medic on the island of Okinawa and the heroic acts that led to his eventual winning of the Congressional Medal of Honour.

Desmond Doss’ story has been told many time over the years through books, television and even a comic book, but this is the first dramatic depiction of his life as a soldier on the big screen. It is a film about a man of faith, but this should not be mistaken as a ‘faith-based’ film. Mel Gibson (The Passion of the Christ) brings forward this captivating story without sacrificing the faith of the central character or minimising the horrors of war. Gibson manages the direction of Hacksaw Ridge with a measured approach in light of both of these areas. He shows the faith of this young man and incorporates how it influences all that he chose to do, but Gibson does not hold back in depicting the battle scenes. The realistic use of extreme special effects accurately depicts the impact on these soldiers.

This aspect of the film should be a subtle warning that this film is not for the faint of heart. Yet, this Academy Award winning director chooses to minimise the depiction of other areas of the military lifestyle by having virtually no foul language or sexual content. Like Chariots of Fire, this is compelling biographical sketch that has at it’s heart a man of faith who takes a stand, but continues to find a unique way of serving his country.

Coming off his strong performance in 99 Homes, Andrew Garfield continues to prove that he has more to offer the cinematic world than his role as Spider-man. His commitment to the role was evident and his performance provides the very heart of Desmond Doss’ story and brings it to life. Gibson has surrounded Garfield with a stellar cast who give the same level of conviction to getting this his story right on screen. Hugo Weaving is exceptional in his portrayal of Thomas Doss and Vince Vaughn (True Detective) as Sargent Howell gives one the best performances of his career. It could be said that some of the roles were a mere cliche of the era, but the direction gives room for all of these characters to have a place on screen. Gibson has done well in picking the right cast members and proving his exceptional skill at telling historical dramas.

Regardless of people’s faith convictions, Hacksaw Ridge is a story worth seeing. The graphic nature of the war scenes may cause some to give it a miss and it needs to be said that this is not a film for young children. For all other ages, Desmond Doss’ story is one to engage with and this depiction of his life ranks as one of the best films of 2016.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

Do not kill – This statement or law is part of the 10 commandments and is addressed throughout the Bible. It is one that seems pretty straight forward, but even the writers of the Bible wrestle with its application. What do you do in times of war or in defending yourself? These are discussions that will challenge lawyers, theologians and mankind for the rest of time.

Hacksaw Ridge is less a story of taking a stand on killing, as it is on standing up for what you believe. The challenge to all who attend this film will be to think of what would you be willing to take a stand on and what it is based in. Where do you base your convictions?

Where do you go in the Bible to get answers on the topic of killing? Exodus 20:13, Leviticus 24:17, Matthew 5: 21-26, Romans 12:17-21

Does the Bible have anything to say about my convictions? Romans 14:13-23, 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13, 1 Peter 2:19-21

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WATCH THE TRAILER

Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.