Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

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Spring, Texas – November 5th, 2016: Hacksaw Ridge (rated R) is by far the best war movie to hit theaters since Saving Private Ryan. I don’t say that lightly since SPR is one of my all-time favorite films. The military has a special place in my heart so when war films are made that show them the reverence they’ve earned, I’m happy. These films are few and far between but when they hit, they hit hard. And boy did Hacksaw Ridge come through in the clutch.

Mel Gibson returns to the directing chair for the first time in a decade with the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Set in WWII, Doss does not believe in violence and refuses to hold a weapon; however, he feels he must enlist in the military to save lives. As a result, he ends up saving approximately 75 lives during the battle of Hacksaw Ridge, becoming a true American hero.

The first thing that should be said is that I don’t believe in murder (like most normal, civilized people). I don’t believe killing in war is murder… it’s just a byproduct. That being said, I don’t understand how someone can enlist in the military while refusing to hold a weapon. I don’t understand how someone can go into battle without armed protection. I don’t say this to get political, just to show that I have a completely different perspective from Desmond Doss. I don’t believe I’m in the minority in that opinion either. Pro-war, anti-war, I think if most people were to enter a gunfight… they’d want a gun.

It is unusual to go into a movie and watch a character with views completely different than your own. That’s part of the appeal of Doss, but equally frustrating. In many ways, I was identifying more with the other soldiers as they bullied him, because who wants to be next to a “coward” in battle? Anyway, back to the point. I can respect someone’s objection to war but it is hard to respect (if that’s the word) a “soldier” that won’t fully commit to being a soldier.

By the end of the movie your respect for Doss changed, much like the respect and admiration of every person in his unit. While the rest of the troops retreated and regained their strength, Doss stayed up all night, searching the battlefield for “just one more” person to save (don’t worry, it’s in the preview).

Everything in Hacksaw Ridge was beautiful. The script was extremely well written and Gibson’s directing was phenomenal. Andrew Garfield was superb as the titular character and the supporting cast of Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, and Hugo Weaving rounded everything out perfectly. I don’t know if there has ever been a more brutal war movie. However, it was not brutal for the sake of brutality; everything was centered around the understanding that violence is a byproduct of war. It also helped Doss seem even more admirable (or crazy) by refusing to carry a weapon.

The final note is that I felt a lot of similarities with Doss in “entering the lion’s den” around people you don’t necessarily see eye to eye with. I think most of us do, especially with this political election. We may often feel outnumbered in our convictions or completely alone, but at the end of the day, there is certain nobility in standing up for what you believe, no matter what the consequences. Doss did this. He was willing to go to jail (or die) but he was not willing to abandon who he was as a person. In a world of peer pressure, I think that is a message everyone should remember.

I think the basic idea of this review has been made, and repeated, many times by now. If you support the military, love learning about WWII, or just want to see a great film, see Hacksaw Ridge. I just cannot praise this film enough and after multiple viewings, I have no doubt I will hold it in the same regard as Saving Private Ryan. As an Oscar-winning director, Mel Gibson has made some great films, and this may be his best yet.

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