Ridge – a film of two halves
is a film of two starkly contrasting halves, made whole by the link of Private
Desmond Doss, charmingly played by Andrew Garfield. It is both twee and
terrifying, heart rending and gut wrenching. It’s certainly not an easy watch,
but then it’s never intended to be. That said, this was much more watchable
than Garfield’s other recent religious epic, Silence, which tested the viewer’s
endurance to the limit over its near three hour span.
For those expecting a straightforward war
movie, the first hour will be rather confusing, as we join Doss growing up in
what, to all intents and purposes, is an episode of The Waltons (they even live
in the Blue Ridge Mountains). We actually had two walk-outs in our screening as
disappointed war film fans thought they had completely misjudged the movie. But
they really should have stuck with it, because when the film gets started, it
does so with more than a bang.
Tearing Doss from the folksy backwoods, where
he climbs the ridge for fun with his brother and then his girl, it deposits him
in Japan, where climbing Hacksaw Ridge is anything but. The battle scene that
follows is one of the most graphic you will ever encounter on the big screen.
It is visceral in both senses of the word, in that it is both deeply disturbing
and it displays a grotesque amount of actual viscera in the severed limbs,
spewing guts and fragments of brain flying around in the extended battle scene.
War is hell, and director Mel Gibson is
determined to leave us in no doubt about this fact as the body count steadily, and
sickeningly, rises all around. It is grim and grizzly, yet such is the skill of
the director, you cannot take your eyes off the screen for a second.
But it is what follows that makes the
movie, as the troops withdraw to safety while Doss stays behind on the ridge to
retrieve the wounded. The end credits state that he saved 75 lives, but apparently
this is just a compromise figure. Ever the modest hero, Doss said it was no
more than 50, while his comrades in arms put the figure nearer 100. They agreed
Hacksaw Ridge has been criticised for its
opening, and you can see why; it is incredibly cutesy and corny. But then it is
only by knowing how ordinary Doss was, that we can truly understand how
extraordinary his actions were. This was no macho hero, this was an
unremarkable man driven by a remarkable belief. Personally, I would’ve liked to
have seen the backstory folded into the training and courtroom scenes a little
more, rather than taking up so much space at the start, but then perhaps it is
the brutal juxtaposition of the two worlds that makes this film so powerful.
Like Dev Patel’s epic journey in Lion, or the equality tale
Figures, you could only make this film as a true story, because no one
would believe you if you made it up; it is simply too incredible.
For more musings from Simon, visit his website!