“HACKSAW RIDGE” My rating: B+
131 minutes | MPAA rating: R
“Old fashioned” in the best possible sense, “Hacksaw Ridge” is a real-life World War II combat drama that has it both ways.
It may be the most violent film ever released by a major studio, being horrifyingly realistic in its depiction of combat in the South Pacific.
At the same time it is soul-shakingly inspiring.
Brutality and spirituality are unlikely bedfellows, which makes the ultimate triumph of “Hacksaw Ridge” all the more remarkable.
In fact, the film instantly elevates director Mel Gibson back to his one-time status as a major filmmaker. Say what you will about Gibson’s misbehavior and misplaced beliefs, the guy has got the stuff.
Like “Sergeant York,” the reality-inspired classic about the World War I hero, “Hacksaw Ridge” centers on a conscientious objector who ends up winning the Congressional Medal of Honor. It even follows that earlier film’s basic narrative, dividing its running time between our hero’s life Stateside and his grueling combat experiences.
The difference is that unlike Sgt. Alvin York — who finally put aside his C.O. status and became a one-man juggernaut, killing at least 28 German soldiers and capturing 132 others — Desmond Doss practiced non-violence even in the midst of the most ghastly carnage imaginable.
With bullets whizzing around him — quite literally up to his knees in blood and guts — this Army medic singlemindedly went about his business of saving his fellow soldiers.
We meet young Desmond (Andrew Garfield) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Dad (Hugo Weaving) is an unshaved alcoholic still tormented by the sight of his friends being blown to bits during the Great War. Mom (Rachel Griffiths) is often on the fist end of her husband’s anguish.
As a boy Desmond is traumatized after losing his temper and striking his brother with a rock. Swearing to never again harm another human, he joins the the Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose pacifist doctrines prohibit its members from carrying weapons.