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Running Time:
2 hr. 19 min.

Rating: R Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Adult.

Rating Explanation:
for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images

Additional Info:
Andrew Garfield as Desmond T. Doss
Teresa Palmer as Dorothy Schutte
Hugo Weaving as Tom Doss
Luke Bracey as Smitty
Sam Worthington as Capt. Glover
Vince Vaughn as Sgt. Howell
Rachel Griffiths as Bertha Doss
Nathaniel Buzolic as Harold Doss
Richard Roxburgh as Col. Stelzer

Hacksaw Ridge
Based on a true World War II story—about Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who refused to carry a gun but saved more than fifty of his fellow soldiers during the bloody battle of Okinawa (and received the Medal of Honor for his heroism). Although it’s distinctly an  old-fashioned drama, but in the first half of the film director Mel Gibson uses tried-and-true tropes so effectively that you don’t mind how hokey they actually are, and he stages the battle sequences that fill the second half with such assurance that those craving violent action will be more than satisfield.

The first half of the film depicts Doss’s troubled home life, his unlikely romance, his enlistment, and his boot camp training. We first meet Doss as a young boy (Darcy Bryce) roughhousing in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his brother Hal (Roman Guerriero). His loving mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) dotes on the boys, but their abusive father Tom (Hugo Weaving) drinks to forget the deaths of his home-town comrades in World War I and goes into violent rages against his sons and his wife. Desmond’s turn to pacifism comes when he seriously injures his brother during a scuffle, and his refusal even to touch a gun again comes when, now grown and played by Andrew Garfield, he intervenes when Tom threatens Bertha with one and he takes it away from him.

He romances pretty nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), with whom he of course falls in love at first sight, and the two plan to marry. But Pearl Harbor intervenes, and Desmond and his friend Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic) enlist, much to the disgust of Tom. That introduces a boot camp sequence that includes tough drill sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and a stable of stereotypical comrades that might have come out of a studio war picture of the time, with nicknames like “Hollywood” and “Ghoul.” His refusal to accept a rifle, citing his beliefs as a Seventh-Day Adventist, earns him treatment from Howell and officers like Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) that is aimed at compelling him to quit, and disdain from his fellow trainees, most notably the supremely macho Smitty (Luke Bracey). Doss is eventually threatened with a court martial, and only an unexpected manages to save him.

Cut to 1945 Okinawa, Doss, now a proper medic, watches in horror as his comrades are cut down by withering enemy fire. He helps as many as he can—Smitty and Howell are among those who are wounded and come under his care—and remains behind after most of the surviving American forces have clambered back down the cliff they had earlier ascended to confront the entrenched Japanese. Over the course of the night he roams around the battlefield, carrying those he finds still alive and lowering them down the cliff to be carted off to the increasingly crowded MASH facility, much to the amazement of those below.

Director Mel Gibson stages these sequences with considerable panache (viewers who experience difficulty seeing severed limbs and gruesome deaths, courtesy of the fine effects team, should be forewarned). But while giving no quarter in the scenes of actual combat, the ultimate emphasis is on Doss’s heroism in putting himself in continued danger to save the wounded. It would be unjust to say that Andrew Garfield comes into his own here, because his performance has from the beginning been superior. The intensity he brings to these later scenes, however, is worthy of special mention—and makes the character worthy of the reverence with which he’s now treated by the rest of the men, so much so that the swelling score by Rupert Gregson-Williams actually comes across as almost unnecessary.

It might seem curious to call a war film an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser—unless it’s a comedy, of course—but Hacksaw Ridge really is. And the real-life footage of a crusty old Doss at the end (accompanied by testimony from others who knew him) caps it off perfectly.

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