Rated R

131 Minutes

Released November 4th

 

While I am fortunate never to have gone into battle as a soldier, I have read many accounts of those who have, including emails from my nephew during his tours in Iraq and my grandfather’s many carefully handwritten letters to his future wife, from his foxhole in World War I. I would presume that any soldier would say that the depiction of battle in Hacksaw Ridge is as real as it gets. This is a tough movie to watch for that reason. However it is a beautifully made film about an experience that many in this world have shared and about which all of us should gain awareness. The way the details of this true story are gradually and gracefully revealed is part of the artistry of the film, so no spoilers will be divulged here.

Mel Gibson has done a superb job of directing this movie, his first return to the director’s chair since he helmed Apocalypto in 2006. Hacksaw Ridge had its world premiere on September 4th at this year’s Venice Film Festival, where it received a 10-minute standing ovation.

The character at the center of the story, played by Andrew Garfield, is complex. His story is told skillfully so that the audience can sense the origins of the morality surrounding the decisions he has made in his life. Garfield has come a long way since Spider-Man, with his solid work in 99 Homes and now with the role of “Desmond T. Doss” in this film. Garfield communicates with great nuance the ethical struggle inherent in his role. Above all this is an ensemble film. You get to know all the soldiers in the unit, and each stands out, even if you don’t remember their names. A actual soldier who had been wounded in battle and was not an actor, played one of the members of the battalion. Vince Vaughn imparts a touch of humor behind the tragedy of his pivotal role as “Sergeant Howell”. Sam Worthington is memorable as “Captain Glover”. Rachel Griffiths is excellent as “Bertha Doss” as is Teresa Palmer as “Dorothy Schutte”. Reportedly Palmer wanted a role in the film so badly she sent an unsolicited iPhone audition to Gibson. Hugo Weaving, as Desmond’s tortured father “Tom Doss”, conveys with skill the emotional scars from his experiences in World War I, scars he now has handed down to his sons.

In the post-screening Q&A, Andrew Garfield suggested that Gibson appears to direct by instinct, and the style works perfectly for him. He does not belabor a scene, yet seems to know exactly how to allow the action develop for the most dramatic impact. It is also laudable that Gibson has depicted the Japanese with honor, as soldiers deeply dedicated to their cause and humble in the face of defeat.

See this movie with clear eyes. The battle scenes are horrific. However this is a realistic portrayal of the devastation of war itself and the revelation that the horror of battle does not recognize good and evil – it annihilates both with equal vengeance.

 

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com