2016 Certificate: 18

Synopsis

An Oscar-nominated Andrew Garfield leads the charge as US Army medic Desmond Doss, a World War II conscientious objector who ended up winning the prestigious Medal of Honor after saving the lives of 75 wounded infantryman. Director Mel Gibson's viscerally violent drama follows the path of the unarmed Doss - a  Seventh Day Adventist - from Virginia to the bloody battle for the Japanese island of Okinawa. Supporting cast includes Vince Vaughn as a company disciplinarian but it's Gibson's terrifyingly staged action setpieces that will lodge gorily in the mind.

Director

  • Mel Gibson

Cast

  • Andrew Garfield

  • Sam Worthington

  • Luke Bracey

  • Teresa Palmer

  • Hugo Weaving

  • Rachel Griffiths

  • Vince Vaughn

Review

The American military mindset doesn't generally have much truck with the sort of soldier that would refuse to carry a rifle.

Yet US Army corporal Desmond Doss went on to become the first conscientious objector to pick up the Medal of Honor - Uncle Sam's highest military honour.

It's no surprise that ostracised Hollywood player and committed Christian Mel Gibson uses the true story of a God-fearing outsider who gradually earns the respect of his peers to make his directorial comeback.

But it doesn't open that promisingly. Gibson cheesily outlines the early years of Doss (Garfield) in bucolic Virginia, the son of a drunkenly abusive WWI veteran (Weaving), who turns the other cheek and finds emotional salvation in his mother's church - the Seventh Day Adventists.

After rescuing a teenager from a car accident, Doss - not far removed in character from Forrest Gump - catches the eye of pretty nurse (Palmer) only to put their romance on hold when he dutifully volunteers to fight (he could have got himself a deferment due to his reserved occupation).

Accepted into a rifle unit, Doss cheerfully throws himself into the sort of square-bashing that is a staple of these sort of films. However, his uncompromising refusal to bear arms marks him out, first as a victim of a beating from his less-than-impressed fellow squaddies and then the subject of a court martial.

Eventually, the military accepts his standing as an unarmed stretcher-bearer...but this means he's thrown into the hell hole of Okinawa Island, specifically the bitterly fought-over Maeda Escarpment, aka Hacksaw Ridge, a barren landscape littered with blasted skulls and shattered bodies.

This is where Gibson demonstrates his considerable skills as a film-maker. The visceral action terrifyingly conveys the sense of never being safe as buddies one side slump with fist-sized holes in their bodies or the enemy - the relentless Imperial Army - are roasted alive by flame-thrower.

Doss - like a cross between the Good Samaritan and Audie Murphy - snaps into action, dodging bullets and bayonets while he scours the blood-slicked ground for the wounded, throwing them over his skinny shoulders and skidding to safety. Only to go back minutes later.

Garfield plays Doss as a outwardly bashful optimist who only reveals his steel backbone when his beliefs are challenged...or he's out on the battlefield dodging bullets and saving lives.

It's a thrilling, sometimes unwatchable, action film but has an undeniable nobility at its core.

Tim Evans