Hacksaw Ridge

Movie Information

The Story: Biopic of Army medic and conscientious objector Desmond Doss, who refused to carry a gun during his training and the Battle of Okinawa. The Lowdown: Andrew Garfield is horribly miscast, and the story often unnecessarily veers away from the compelling true story to explore Doss’ nightmares. War is hell, but this film often is too.
Genre: Real-life World War II drama
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths
Rated: R

A scene toward the end of Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge shows a World War II American Army medic grappling for his life in hand-to-hand combat with a Japanese solider. A grenade lands between them, and the men scream into each other’s terrified faces as they await their certain end. Sadly, I often felt very much the same way during this biopic of the first U.S. conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.


It’s not that the story of Desmond Doss is not a compelling one — because it very much is — the problem with this war story is in its execution.

Andrew Garfield may have been the star of 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man and its lackluster 2014 sequel, but his performance here is anything but honorable. Maybe it is his skinny frame or pointed rat-like facial features, but I never found his attempt at filling the boots of a pacifist war hero believably heroic. When the character decides to rush into combat without a firearm as the bullets whiz by and the enemy advances, Garfield’s interpretation of Doss makes the bizarre choice to remove his helmet and let his floppy hair blow in the battlefield breeze. Perhaps that was to keep the star spotlight on Garfield rather than lose him in a sea of grimy combat fatigues, but it made it impossible for me to view accept any of the real-life narrative reenacted on the screen as anything but Hollywood playing war games with my movie ticket.

Fantasy continues to intrude on reality as director Gibson decides to eschew the romance and drama of the story to explore Doss’ nightmare visions on and off the battlefield in much the same way Nate Parker’s recent The Birth of a Nation dumbly digressed into an exploration of angel imagery. When a director has a story the audience is interested in, they should serve their compelling tale rather than add unnecessary artistic flourish that only confuses the audience until we come crashing back to the actual story. I hope this trend will soon end because I find it infuriating. It is almost insulting to the real-life events while unnecessarily extending the running time.

hacksaw ridge vince vaughn

There are some strong performances in Hacksaw Ridge, most notably the supporting cast of Doss’ poor, but humble, dysfunctional Virginia parents (Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths) and the woman who inspires Doss to go into battle (Teresa Palmer). But their screen time is often overshadowed by Garfield’s overbearing faux Virginia accent. Vince Vaughn does a commendable job as the gruff drill sergeant assigned to shepherd a young solider who has deep religious and personal convictions against killing, but it felt like stunt casting and detracted from the overall reality of the story. The battle scenes often seem prolonged and the graphic violence excessive. If war is hell, then so is watching Hacksaw Ridge past the 90-minute mark as Garfield tries to rescue “jus’ one moar” of his fallen comrades in Okinawa.


If you see a recurring theme of “trying too hard” here, that is because Hacksaw Ridge really is an overcomplicated exercise in excess. Right before the credits rolled, interview clips with the real-life counterparts to Gibson’s version almost redeemed the reality of the events and made me wonder if watching the 2013 documentary The Conscientious Objector would have been time better spent to learn the story of Doss and his personal convictions.

Doss’ heroic and emotional story was in development for 14 years before it finally made it to theaters. But, like the tool in the title, Hacksaw Ridge jaggedly cuts too much when a simple surgical incision made with precision would have better honored this soldier’s personal sacrifice. Doss — and all movie theater patrons — deserve better, so it’s understandable if you abstain from enlisting by buying a ticket. Rated R for realistic war violence and some graphic imagery.

Now playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville and Regal Biltmore Grande.

About Jonathan Rich
A veteran freelance writer living in WNC, Jonathan Rich writes about arts and entertainment events for Mountain Xpress and mountainx.com

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19 thoughts on “Hacksaw Ridge

    • Jonathan W Rich


      Unlike the aforementioned Ken Hanke, I am only here to discuss the films I review and do not wish to do anything more.

      If you want to make assumptions and talk politics, please do so elsewhere. I know you have a following on Ashvegas.com so please waste his time and bandwidth.

      If you watched ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and want to discuss it or my critique you are welcome to do so here. If not, please be respectful and play internet troll without my involvement or inclination.

      Honestly and with hoped clarity,


  1. And now for some much needed perspective:

    Mel Gibson’s ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is the Best War Film Since ‘Saving Private Ryan’
    By Rex Reed • 11/02/16 (4/4 stars)

    “Like the voters who plan to stay home on Election Day because they don’t like the candidates, potential filmgoers who avoid Hacksaw Ridge because they object to Mel Gibson will be the losers. ”

    • Jonathan W Rich

      Not going to delete your comments, but politely ask you to keep this forum focused on film criticism instead of politics.

      Hope you can appreciate and respect that.


  2. I haven’t mentioned a thing about politics since my initial observation to which you responded with objection. I’m happy to continue commenting for as long and as much as I please, with or without your favor. Those are my terms.

    • Able Allen

      Please keep your commenting about the film and its review. Those are our terms.

    • Jonathan W Rich

      Reed liked it more than I did, and that’s fine. I shared my thoughts and respect his as a veteran film critic.


  3. Congratulations, Mel Gibson.

    Vanity Fair

    The director’s film Hacksaw Ridge just scooped up a ton of prestigious prizes.

    Hacksaw Ridge might just be the dark horse of the long, gilded journey we call awards season. The epic W. W. II film—Mel Gibson’s latest directorial offering, coming a decade after controversial behavior first obliterated his reputation—nearly swept the deck at the Australian answer to the Academy Awards Wednesday night. Ridge, which was partly shot in Australia, picked up 9 out of the 13 awards it was nominated for, including best film, best screenplay, and best cinematography. Gibson picked up the best-director award, and star Andrew Garfield picked up the best-actor award. Australia likes you, Mel. It really, really likes you.

  4. People are loving Hacksaw Ridge. I never saw it.

    Best Motion Picture of the Year – Drama
    Most are betting on “Moonlight” here, and indeed, the film is well-liked within the group. But it may be in their minds more than their hearts. “Manchester by the Sea” is lurking, too. But I’m going out on a limb and calling it for “Hacksaw Ridge,” which is very strong with HFPA members and could make it a momentous night for Lionsgate. (More on why in a moment…)
    Prediction: “Hacksaw Ridge”

  5. Oscar Nominees for Best Picture of the Year 2017

    Nine movies, most of them cobbled together outside the studio system, will compete for Hollywood’s top prize. Filling out the best picture race are “Arrival,” a science-fiction thriller; the cops-and-robbers drama “Hell or High Water”; “Manchester by the Sea,” about a mournful New England handyman; the subtitled tear-jerker “Lion”; and “Hacksaw Ridge,” Mel Gibson’s true story of World War II heroism.


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