The story of Desmond Doss is so remarkable that it’s surprising it took this long for someone to make a film based on his life. Although Hollywood has produced plenty of movies about real-life war heroes, Doss is a fairly unique case: a U.S. Army medic and devout Seventh-day Adventist who single-handedly saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa without ever firing a shot. It’s the kind of material that Mel Gibson typically gravitates towards as a filmmaker, which is why it’s so fitting that “Hacksaw Ridge” marks the director’s long-awaited return behind the camera. “Hacksaw Ridge” isn’t as great as some of Gibson’s past work, but it’s a well-made drama that’s bolstered by a superb central performance and the best battle sequences since “Saving Private Ryan.”
Before plunging the audience into the horrors of WWII, however, Gibson flashes back to a year earlier to show how Desmond’s (Andrew Garfield) fractured home life and his romance with local nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) led him to enlist in the Army. Though Desmond doesn’t believe in violence, his sense of patriotism and duty compels him to follow in his brother’s footsteps, much to the disapproval of his alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving), who witnessed all of his friends killed in action during the first World War.
Desmond wants to serve as a combat medic so that he can save lives rather than take them, but upon arriving at Fort Jackson for basic training, he’s met with resistance by his commanding officers, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), who try to convince Desmond to quit and then court-martial him for his refusal to carry a weapon. But since we already know how the story ends (in fact, Gibson opens the movie with a shot of Desmond being carried across the battlefield), it’s safe to say that he wins the case and is shipped out with the rest of his unit to Japan, where he would go on to earn the respect of his fellow soldiers in a miraculous act of heroism and bravery.