Mel Gibson directs Andrew Garfield in a story of extraordinary heroism amidst the carnage of WWII
That combat medic Desmond Doss's story isn't more widely known is a surprise, given his spectacularly heroic feats. However, for viewers going in blind, Mel Gibson's biopic will have a particularly suspenseful edge. Andrew Garfield takes the central role of Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist whose pacifism didn't stop him from enrolling in the army during World War II.
Despite attracting the ire of his officers and peers for his refusal to pick up a rifle, let alone shoot one, Doss shipped out to Japan where he was thrust straight into the bloody Battle of Okinawa. Doss's incredible bravery saw him become the first man to ever be awarded the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot.
Gibson's approach to this extraordinary story is as you would expect of both filmmaker and genre. There's plenty of action and that, combined with an almost reverential approach to Doss – augmented by a screenplay which features huge swathes of motivational speak – could have seen Hacksaw Ridge become just another war movie. But Doss's truly Herculean endeavours rise above the clichés, providing depth of drama and character.
Garfield's trademark awkward-everyman persona works really well here; rightly, his Doss is not a fearless hero but a normal man whose unshakeable faith leads him to greatness. He shines in a decent cast, which includes Hugo Weaving as Doss's violent veteran father, a man clearly suffering from undetected PTSD. Indeed, the theme of World War I soldiers having to watch their sons march off to WWII is an intriguing subplot which could do with being more fully explored.
Here, though, the focus is firmly on Doss, and his Okinawa battle sequences are superbly realised. The bombastic effects and Simon Duggan's creeping cinematography underscore both the carnage of combat and the strength of the human spirit, which can shine through even the most hellish of situations.
General release from Fri 27 Jan.