Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” is about Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his role in singlehandedly carrying 75 soldiers to safety in a fierce fight leading up to the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. As one might expect from Gibson the director, the film is ripe with voluptuous scenes of carnage. He certainly knows how to put you into the eye of the storm.
But Doss, who believed he had an obligation to save lives rather than take them, is a far more complicated character than this amped-up movie allows for. Doss was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. His refusal to pick up a rifle during basic training leaves him open to brutal hazing by his fellow enlistees, yet he never wavers in his determination to enter the fray without weapons. His valor is celebrated by Gibson as a spiritual offering; the film is replete with images in which Doss is deified, Christlike, for his sacrifice and courage.
What isn’t really explored is how Doss might have felt about how his rescue efforts were inextricably linked to the enemies’ destruction. Gibson also doesn’t delve into the disconnect between Doss’s religious beliefs and the convictions of those ardent Christians fighting and dying around him. As played by Garfield, Doss is such a simple, down-home soul that at times he resembles an anointed version of Forrest Gump. Gibson has a powerful, muscular sense of action. The war scenes in “Hacksaw Ridge,” which take up almost half the screen time, are almost on a level with the D-Day invasion sequence from “Saving Private Ryan.”
But, as in “Braveheart," “The Passion of the Christ,” and “Apocalypto,” he piles on the carnage in an attempt to consecrate suffering and achieve a spiritual cleansing. What often comes through instead is bloodlust posing as religiosity. Grade: B- (Rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.)