Reviewing a Truly Captivating Film: Is “Hawksaw Ridge”“Oscar Bait” or Oscar-Deserving?

By Jason Yon
Elm Staff Writer

“Hacksaw Ridge” tells the amazing true story of Desmond Doss, who as a combat medic in the Second World War became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. During the battle of Okinawa he single handedly brought 75 wounded soldiers back from the front lines after the rest of his company had already retreated. For a day and a half, Doss ran back and forth between no man’s land and an escarpment, lowering the wounded the soldiers by rope to US forces waiting below.
This is the most recent film directed by Mel Gibson and features Andrew Garfield as Doss with Hugo Weaving and Vince Vaughn in supporting roles.
The movie begins by telling the story of Doss right before he enlists in the Army. Doss lived in western Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains with his brother, mother and drunk father, played by Weaving. His father, who was mentally scarred by his service in the World War I implores his two sons to avoid being entangled in the current conflict. Doss goes against his father’s wishes and enlists in the Army, feeling as though it is his duty to serve during his country’s time of need, stating that he took Pearl Harbor personally.

Hawksaw Ridge
Actor Andrew Garfield stars in Mel Gibson’s thrilling, “Hawksaw Ridge.”

Upon reaching boot camp, Doss struggles with the Army and his own beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist. He identifies as a conscientious objector and staunchly opposes killing under any circumstances and refuses to bear a rifle, even for training. Despite the discrimination and persecution he faces for his beliefs from his comrades, Doss completes training and is sent off to the Pacific Theater as a combat medic.
Since Mel Gibson directed “Hacksaw Ridge”, it is extremely violent, much like his previous directorial escapades. The battle scenes of the movie are filled with disturbing images of the brutal combat in the Pacific. Arcs of fire from flamethrowers engulf soldiers as they writhe around in slow motion. Artillery rounds from naval guns and mortars blow men into the sky and remove limbs from bodies. Bullets seem to impact and penetrate with actual force; bodies shudder and react with each blow.
The sound design was also excellent. The theater shook with the deafening report of artillery and individual rounds can be heard whizzing past the camera. Between the fighting, corpses and body parts lay strewn in gory detail, with the film sparing little detail. The level of combat violence in “Hacksaw Ridge” is very similar to “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers,” and while at times it can be quite disturbing, the representation of the horrors of combat helps to convey the difficulties and emotions of war.
This movie comes out at an opportune time to make an impression on the committee that nominates films for Oscars. Artistic, historical, or biographic films released from November to January with the main purpose of winning an award are typically branded as “Oscar Bait.” While “Hacksaw Ridge” is undoubtedly one of these films, the performances of Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, and Vince Vaughn are entertaining as well as powerful enough to actually deserve Oscar nods.
Most surprising was Vince Vaughn’s performance as Doss’s commanding officer who initiated the discrimination in boot camp but slowly came to respect and appreciate Doss in the war. Vaughn is most known for cheap adult and romantic comedies, but his performance in “Hacksaw Ridge” was sincere and genuine. The film may also receive nominations for costume design, special effects, or director.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is an amazing war movie with the twist of having a conscientious objector as the main character. What makes everything better is the knowledge that the film is based on true events, which ads a certain amount of awe to the actions of Desmond Doss. Aside from some obligatory corny romance tying Doss back to the United States, it is an amazing war movie. The story’s focus on sticking to one’s beliefs and bravery is very powerful.
The very end of the film features a few minutes of interviews from Desmond Doss and several of the other real life people that were represented. Seeing the actual soldiers in their old age crying tears of pride left a lasting impression. While it probably wouldn’t appeal to everyone, “Hacksaw Ridge” is definitely one of the best films of the year.
Score: A

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