"Hacksaw Ridge" is the best war film since "Saving Private Ryan." Director Mel Gibson has captured the heart of this tale about a soldier whose patriotism led him to enlist, even though his religious beliefs prevented him from touching a weapon or fighting on the Sabbath. I am probably most impressed that Hollywood allowed this film's strong Christian message to hit the mainstream without being mocked or criticized. Granted, it's message could factor into the Oscar race but I hope that it will earn recognition through some much deserved nominations and wins. The film does everything right from its acting and score to the limitation of special effects (to enhance the realism) and straightforward storytelling. The story takes places in basically three different chapters. It creates an immediate attachment to Desmond Doss with a cute love story, explores the complications of his convictions through the training sequences, and then shows his heroism on the battlefield. The war scenes are pretty brutal and give a vivid insight into the treacherous conditions on Hacksaw Ridge. Be prepared to see legs being blown off, bullets tearing holes through bodies, and men being set on fire with flame throwers. It is difficult to watch but will also enhance your appreciation for the veterans who have served our country in battle. The cinematography and script work hand in hand to create a visual depiction of the attacks that is easy to follow. The score by Rupert Gregson-Williams works on multiple levels as it enhances the love story, facilitates the drama caused by Desmond's convictions, and paints the hopeless atmosphere of Hacksaw Ridge. The thing that ties all of these details together is an Oscar-worthy performance by Andrew Garfield. The combination of his accent, emotions, and dedication to the role will make you think that you are watching the real Desmond in a flashback. He has a great supporting cast around him, including some great moments from Sam Worthington and a stunning performance by a nearly unrecognizable Hugo Weaving. He brings an impressive amount of subtle emotions to the emotionless, shell shocked father that contrast the moments where his emotions must escalate. Vince Vaughn seems like a horrible casting choice for a drill sergeant (we all wish that we could forget the "Psycho" remake) but he brings just the right amount of comedy to the role while transitioning into the serious character necessary for the war scenes. Finally, Teresa Palmer has the perfect look for a 1940's love interest. Our perception of Desmond hinges on the love story humanizing him at the beginning of the field and the chemistry between Garfield and Palmer is perfect. "Hacksaw Ridge" is not easy to watch (mainly the second half) but it is worth enduring the blood and gore to get to the strong themes of religion and patriotism that permeate the bleak hopelessness of this battle.
[Pictured: Andrew Garfield delivers the best performance of his life to drive the intensity of this film]