Written by Joseph Palmer
Edited by Holly Barr
Over the years, war films have changed dramatically from odd silent political pieces like Birth of a Nation, to beautiful anti-war pieces such as All Quiet on the Western front, to straight up pro war propaganda from Axis directors all the way to odd disillusioned Vietnam war-comedy –fake doc esque pieces like Full Metal Jacket. The film that made the most difference in the modern age, however, was Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg’s war epic no longer placed the viewer in the shoes of a distant observer to the war effort, but instead placed them directly within the death and destruction of war. As an audience, we were treated like friends and allies, making each explosion, death and moment of terrified silence hit harder than any other war film prior. If these are turning points in the war genre, Hacksaw Ridge is certainly a milestone to remember.
The story follows Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector during WWII who, without picking up a weapon, won the Medal of Honour by saving 75 wounded men. This feat is showcased in the film – but not all of it, as some of his actions were deemed to unbelievable for movie going audiences and therefore removed from the script.
What really makes Hacksaw Ridge pop from a visual perspective, however, is its harrowing scenery. We quickly move from a beautiful and golden Virginia to a harsh but bright boot camp to the misty, grey horrors of battle. The sets are so wonderfully constructed, with each body placement, dropped weapon, machine gun nest and screaming soldiers telling hundreds of different stories of their own, bringing the battle to long in both a terrifying and wonderful way. The make up is also stunning, looking closer to reality than most anything we’ve seen in film yet, as difficult as it makes it to watch at points. This is all backed up by some gorgeous cinematography from Simon Duggan that is quiet enough to make each shot feel held back and not take away from the events on screen whilst being intense enough to conjure up emotion of fear with simple camera movements.
As in all films though, its the acting that really solidifies its status as a masterpiece. Andrew Garfield’s performance, just like his in Silence, is staggeringly powerful, with every emotion jumping from the screen like he’s performing on stage. Unfortunately for Garfield, he’s outperformed at every turn when he shares the screen with the magnificent Hugo Weaving, who plays Doss’s abusive, war-stricken father. Weaving still stands as one of, if not the most underrated actor currently working, with almost every role being a shining example of exactly what’s right about Hollywood today.
On top of the two brightest stars in the film, Vince Vaughn manages to pull of a subdued and surprisingly hilarious yet touching performance as Sergeant Howell, and, as crazy as this seems, Sam Worthington is actually excellent. The famously stoney, dull actor manages to crank out a few different emotions all in the same scene – shocker! And, of course, the two main female characters in the almost entirely male cast, Rachel Griffiths and Teresa Palmer, do a wonderful job, and end up seeming stronger and more powerful than almost all of the male characters, proving that you don’t always have to adhere to the unfair portrayal of women in most war films as simply background chatter.
In the end, Hacksaw Ridge is just wonderful – what a beautifully shocking film, a film that shows us so much about humanity by just showing the life of one of recent histories most incredible people. A masterclass in film making, birthed from Desmond Doss’s masterclass in how to be a wonderful person.