Perhaps how much you rate Hacksaw Ridge will depend on what sort of war movies you rate highly. For me, the big three would be Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and Platoon. Each of these films seems to present the war in a photo realistic way, with characters that you truly grow to care about and so once you see them inside the theater of war, you care for them and so the slaughter scenes seem much more intense, thanks to the great performances and brilliant direction. Who could reach the intensity of Coppola, Stone and Kubrick. The unlikely name of Mel Gibson has just stepped up to the plate and knocked it cleanly out of the park.
Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of a man who felt it was his duty to go to war, but his Seventh Day religion told him that he would be unable, not only to fire a weapon, but even to touch one of these instruments of death. In the wrong hands, such a tale could sound preachy or ridiculously religious, but there are enough scenes pre-war that make you love Andrew Garfield’s character, so when you see him thrown into a garrison of men who either don’t understand his stance, or merely want him gone, the film manages to avoid cliches in such scenes as the Sarge vs the grunt or the team beating up on one man, scenes we have seen a million times before, but with the excellent showing of Garfield and the surprise seriousness and intensity of Vince Vaughn in a career best performance, these scenes shine.
But what of the war? If you’ve seen Passion Of The Christ, you will know that Gibson is able to show intense horror and pain to the individual, but here he turns his attention to the horror of the battlefield and goes deeper than many have ever dared go. We are used to the camera panning over the field, but here there are no empty spaces, you see pieces of people, a head here, a torso there, sometimes the camera might pan up from the legs, only to reveal the rest of the body is missing. These nightmarish visions will stay with you and shy away from the ‘heroics of the battlefield’ stance of many older war films, this is a tale of survival and you watch in horror as many of the men you have spent the opening hour with are taken out within seconds of the battle commencing.
Even Garfield’s heroic actions as the surgeon of the team are not taken out of the realism – as he continues to go back to save his friends, you will be thinking “GO BACK!!! GIVE UP!!!” as you spot the Japanese beginning to reappear over the ridge, these scenes are savage and breathtaking, once again thanks to the brilliant direction.
Hacksaw Ridge may be too much for some people, but those with strong stomachs should seek out this excellent tale of heroism and horror as soon as possible.