Sunday, 19 February 2017


War. What is it good for? The great philosopher Edwin Starr would say 'absolutely nothing'. which is especially true if you are a pacifist. But does this view on violence mean you are unable to serve your country? This is Hacksaw Ridge.

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a Seventh-Day Adventist who holds the Lord's word as law and takes that seriously. After the outbreak of World War II and the United State's battles with Japan, 'Do Not Kill' becomes a conflicting ideology when you have a desire to serve your country alongside your fellow men. Desmond signs up as a medic but refuses to pick up a gun, earning him the label of a conscientious objector. The army hierarchy, primarily Sgt Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), try to encourage Desmond to leave the military, going as far as court marshalling him. But this is the story of Doss' bravery, of how, despite the opposition he faced, he saved 75 men's lives without ever firing a gun. 

Hacksaw Ridge explodes onto the screen and rattles along with an astonishing handle on its pacing, never dragging for a second. Garfield is phenomenal and his performance is the glue that holds the film together; his Southern charm and humble faith contrast the blood shed of war and Garfield is absorbed into his character completely. Another stand out is Vince Vaughn. Far away from his comedy roots, but clearly drawing from and influenced by it. He plays the sharp-witted and hardened drill sergeant Howell and its unlike a lot of his other roles, yet here he is perfectly suited. His background in comedy gives him an edge with his insults to the privates but beneath his hardened exterior there is a tenderness to the performance; he truly cares about his men and their lives, their success.

There's always a battle (no pun intended) between realism and watchability when filming war and Mel Gibson does a remarkable job. Never sparing the gritty reality of war, Gibson tells a story of real heart and soul with one of the most likeable solider protagonists to date. War is brutal, but balanced with Desmond's faith in God (emphasised in the film no doubt due to Gibson's own faith) and his hope, determination, and compassionate selflessness, Hacksaw Ridge never falls into the trap of being violence oriented. Some have criticised the movie, stating that its violent portrayal of a non-violent message is counter-productive, but its not. Doss shines against a backdrop of carnage, his acts of bravery made more mammoth by the circumstances surrounding them. Whilst some films seek to express the darkness of war - think Apocalypse Now's 'The horror. The horror' - Hacksaw Ridge seeks to emphasise the good in man.

Hacksaw Ridge boasts stunning cinematography and an incredible visual landscape - the sheer extremity of the ridge itself is a sight to behold. It also has the most powerfully constructed World War II fighting since Saving Private Ryan. Make no mistake, this film hinges on the atrocities of war and does not pretend it doesn't, however it does not glorify the fighting, but condemns it. It offers hope, faith, and courage, and in a world that can often seem bleak, perhaps we could all do with a bit more those three things.

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