Soldier of peace

Soldier of peace

Review: Hacksaw Ridge

(MA15+) Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving

In our jaded world, we continue to search for heroes. When we hear of true heroism from ordinary people, it begs our attention. The soldiers of World War Two continue to provide rich fields of courage under fire and few can compare with the story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge)

Through his relationship with his father and brother, the young American learned to defend himself; through the love of his mother, he grew to know the importance of family; and, through his faith as a Seventh Day Adventist, this young man developed a sanctity of life. Desmond’s father Tom (Hugo Weaving) was a veteran of World War One and still suffered from the memories associated with its horrors. He caused continual turmoil in the Doss household but, while Tom Doss opposed WWII, his sons still chose to enlist.

Desmond was a conscientious objector but he chose to be a military medic. He understood this would mean he would not be required to hold a weapon while he still served his country. As Hacksaw Ridge shows, this naive view ultimately leads him through great trials within superior officers and his platoon. Despite threat of a court martial and regular physical abuse, Desmond perseveres and ships out to serve in the South Pacific conflict. Hacksaw Ridge continues his journey as a medic on the island of Okinawa and the heroic acts that led to his eventual winning of the Congressional Medal of Honour.

Desmond Doss’ story has been told many times through books, television and even a comic book, but this is the first big-screen depiction of his life as a soldier. Like Chariots of Fire, Hacksaw Ridge is a compelling biographical sketch that has, at it’s heart, a man of faith who takes a stand, but continues to find a unique way of serving his country. But it shouldn’t be mistaken as a ‘faith-based’ film. Mel Gibson (The Passion of the Christ) brings forward this captivating story without sacrificing the faith of the central character or minimising the horrors of war. Gibson manages the direction of Hacksaw Ridge with a measured approach in light of both of these areas. He shows the faith of this young man and incorporates how it influences all that he chose to do, but Gibson does not hold back in depicting the battle scenes. The realistic use of extreme special effects accurately depicts the impact upon these soldiers.

This aspect of the film should be a subtle warning that Hacksaw Ridge is not for the faint of heart. Yet, this Academy Award winning director chooses to minimise the depiction of other areas of the military lifestyle by having virtually no foul language or sexual content.

Coming off his strong performance in 99 Homes,Andrew Garfield continues to prove he has more to offer the cinematic world than his role as Spider-man. His commitment to the role is evident and his performance provides the very heart of  Desmond Doss’ story and brings it to life. Gibson has surrounded Garfield with a stellar cast who give the same level of conviction to getting his story right on screen. Weaving is exceptional in his portrayal of Thomas Doss and Vince Vaughn (True Detective) as Sargent Howell gives one the best performances of his career. It could be said that some of the roles were a mere cliche of the era, but Gibson’s direction gives room for all of these characters to have a place on screen. Gibson has done well in picking the right cast members and proving his exceptional skill at telling historical dramas.

Regardless of people’s faith convictions, Hacksaw Ridge is a story worth seeing. The graphic nature of the war scenes may cause some to give it a miss and it needs to be said that this is not a film for young children. For all other ages, Desmond Doss’ story is one to engage with and this depiction of his life ranks as one of the best films of 2016.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

Do not kill  This statement or law is part of the 10 commandments and is also addressed throughout the Bible. It is a commandment that seems pretty straight forward, but even the writers of the Bible wrestle with its application. What do you do in times of war or in defending yourself? These are discussions that will challenge lawyers, theologians — and many others — for the rest of time.

Hacksaw Ridge is less a story of taking a stand on killing, as it is on standing up for what you believe. The challenge to all who attend this film will be to think of what would you be willing to take a stand on and what it is based in. Where do you base your convictions?

Where do you go in the Bible to get answers on the topic of killing?

Exodus 20:13, Leviticus 24:17, Matthew 5: 21-26, Romans 12:17-21

Does the Bible have anything to say about my convictions?

Romans 14:13-23, 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13, 1 Peter 2:19-21


Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


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