Desmond Doss saved roughly 75 men in a 12 hour span during the Battle of Okinawa. He did so without a weapon, not even a sidearm. Doss rejected weapons based on his religious beliefs, a contentious objector, yet compelled to join as the war effort grew.

Mel Gibson takes Doss’ story and soaks it with religious symbolism and true-to-life gore. That mixture almost works. Doss’ immeasurable heroics, scanning the landscape for signs of survivors, patching them up, and sending them down a sheer cliff (while Japanese forces scour the same ground) is portrayed with an aggressive thrust of Hollywood heroism.


On the flipside, it’s a singularly minded combat movie, opening with an arduously campy, eye-rollingly sweet romance to capture a bit of baby boomer nostalgia. Doss’ father suffers from post-WWI alcoholism, a detail which feels softened. Everything comes coated in gooey, color-laced cinematography. It isn’t until later, when convenient and needed, Hacksaw Ridge breaks the illusion. Doss (Andrew Garfield) nearly shot his abusive father. Recoiling in horror at the consideration of murder, the circumstances make Doss’ anti-weapon stand look less like religious urgency than emotional anxiety, something the film works earnestly to hide.

A prevailing narrative spurs on religious intolerance rather than courage

This feeds into a pro-America extravaganza, where not a single Japanese soldier earns characterization. They’re targets designed to explode – no definition or exposition allowed regarding their own belief systems. This feeds either a nationalistic or even racist narrative depending on perspective. This leads into an inexcusably poor climax wherein Japanese commanders – previously unseen – commit sepukku, intended to be a proud climax for the audience. Never mind Doss saved Japanese as well, mentioned only in a throwaway line of dialog.


Worse is Mel Gibson’s unwarranted allegorical content, turning Doss toward heavenly sainthood via cinematography. Hacksaw Ridge is full of those moments. Against Doss, everyone exposes their religious bigotry, the camera sitting on Doss’ tense facial expressions as he’s berated by superiors. A prevailing narrative spurs intolerance rather than courage. Doss isn’t fighting a war for the first hour – he’s a stand-in for contemporary beliefs surrounding Christianity, those who see their religion under attack by health care policy, pro-choice, and other movements. A conservative-leaning, anti-government bias worsens with time. This slant layers onto Hacksaw Ridge, dimming this true life story with frustrating, repetitive commentary.

Despite this, the eventual battle is heartlessly cruel and draining, succeeding Gibson’s starring role in We Were Soldiers while besting Saving Private Ryan in violence by many lengths. The late ’90s rush of popular WWII films cannot compare. Hacksaw Ridge’s dirty, raw, and near monochrome palette project a heartless battleground, now with the unimpeded clarity of digital cinema. Arms, legs, heads; they tear and explode, leaning Hacksaw Ridge away from unfiltered pro-war propaganda, but in a sense, propelling Doss further into righteousness. Everyone is cruel. Doss is pure.

Doss’ story first came into public knowledge through the 2004 documentary Conscientious Objector, released two years prior to his death in 2006. Start there. That film builds a natural hero, telling his story his way with his words They come situated between grueling battlefield footage for context, and without the metaphorical bold-faced type of Mel Gibson.

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Desmond Doss’ story is heavily slanted by Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, although the unrelenting second half captures the horrors of war.

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4.67 (3 votes)

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