Movie Reviews

Published on November 4th, 2016 | by Don Guillory


Hacksaw Ridge

World War II was an event that changed America’s standing globally and ensured the end of Hitler’s tyranny over Europe. It witnessed an isolated nation enter the war after being attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. The war forced men from all walks of life to step up in defense of their nation and for the freedom of those abroad. Desmond Dawes was one of these men, however, he sought to serve a different function in war. Instead of taking lives, he wanted to save them.

Hacksaw Ridge brings viewers a different perspective of war and the soldiers that were fighting it. Unlike previous films, this one discusses and displays the contributions made by a pacifist, a contentious objector, something that we look at as an anomaly and counter to the personalities and individuals that we are accustomed to seeing in a warfighting capacity. We don’t typically think about those who would resist fighting, other than those who dodged the draft or sought deferments. This film allows for a glimpse into how one man’s principles and faith allow him to resist actively fighting in order to serve as a combat medic in order for his fellow soldiers to return home. The story is harrowing and audiences will find themselves rooting for Private Dawes while questioning how his principles could remain so strong despite all of the obstacles that are put in his way. He wants to serve his country in the war, but does not want to kill in service to it. He is constantly referred to and treated as a coward for his stance. Despite this, he proves himself of heroism that cannot be measured.

The film is beautiful in displaying the various complexities in warfare and individual soldiers’ experiences. We get to see how Dawes is shaped into having the beliefs that guide him in his quest to become a soldier. We see the relationships that he develops in his hometown, his family, and the conflict that erupts between him and other members of his unit. We see that war is more complex than men fighting and killing. There is depth. There is character. These men are not simply numbers on a board or text. There is something about each one of them that played into the success of taking Okinawa as part of the Pacific campaign.

Hacksaw Ridge is not simply a film about one man’s journey to serve his principles and God while struggling against various agents seeking to break his spirit and demean who he is. The battle scenes and brutality rival that of Saving Private Ryan. Audiences seeking to see a traditional “rah rah” war film are going to be surprised with the way that this film will, hopefully, make them think more deeply about the calamity and horror of war. It will hopefully have them think about how far we have come as a people. More importantly, it will make us think differently about the men who served and helped to ensure democracy globally.

The film, overall, is strong with its presentation of information, action, sequences and storytelling. It may surpass previous WWII films with respect to significance and allowing itself to serve as a historical lens to the past. Audiences will be satisfied, shocked, and a bit disgusted with what is on display whether it is how war is conducted or in how we treat others with different beliefs or stances. Hacksaw Ridge may be an instant classic in not only its approach to the Pacific Theater, but in how we look at the soldiers and their contributions to this period.


Second Review by Joshua Aja

Like many young men at the time Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) enlists in the Army during World War II. Unlike the majority of those young men Desmond refuses to kill anyone or even touch a gun. As a child, a traumatic event with his brother directs Desmond’s life to one devoted to his religion and his principles of nonviolence. But he is determined to go to war serve protect his country as an Army Medic. With his alcoholic and abusive, World War I veteran, father (Tom Doss played by Hugo Weaving) telling him of the horrors of battle and his fiancé (Teresa Palmer played by Dorothy Schutte) wanting him to stay home, Desmond heads determined to basic training and into war.

He is met there by two commanding officers, Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) and Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), attempting to get him to quit and his entire company calling him a coward. Through all of this Desmond holds fast to his faith and principles, even through the threat of court martial and prison. He is finally allowed to serve and along with his company is sent into the Pacific to fight the Japanese. At Hacksaw Ridge, on the island of Okinawa, he distinguishes himself as a true hero, by repeatedly going back into the line of fire and across enemy lines to save the men that called him coward. For all of his heroics he is awarded the Medal of Honor. To receive such an award is remarkable. The fact that he did so as an unarmed Army Medic is miraculous.

This is a true and compelling story. There are some very realistic, and probably for some people to realistic, and gory war scenes. The director, Mel Gibson, did a really good job with the action sequences. I felt that the direction could have been better for acting performances and gave them a more realistic feel, less scripted and robotic sounding at times. Also I thought that the beginning of the movie really took a long time to get going and the pace was very slow. 

I think it was important to the story to know what inspired Desmond to make the choices he did and why commitment became a conscientious objector but I felt that is could have been done at a better pace to make the movie more consistent throughout. It really felt like there were two different films jammed together. I think given the marketing for this film, most viewers will be expecting to see an action movie and the first hour will really not meet those expectations. The battle at Hacksaw Ridge has some very cool elements and realistic close hand to hand action. I thought a slowed down shot of machine gun firing was something that was really well done and it was presented in a way I had not seen before. But the dialog in the action sequences seemed forced and did hurt the flow overall.

The despite the shortcomings of this film I really did like the story. I thought it could have moved a little better overall but still left thinking it was a good film. Maybe not something I would pay movie theater prices for but definitely would watch again if it was on television.


3 out of 5

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