HACKSAW RIDGE is Mel Gibson's re-telling of the true story of Desmond Doss, a deeply religious US soldier who fought in the Pacific against the Japanese and won his country's highest military honour despite being a conscientious objector. Doss refused to hold or fire a weapon but went into battle as a combat medic. And when his company was forced to retreat in ignominious circumstances, he stayed on top of Hacksaw Ridge and single-handedly rescued over seventy men. He attributed his success and his survival to his faith, and overturned the prejudices of the men who thought him a coward.
It's easy to see why such material would appeal to Mel Gibson, a man whose faith is a quite extreme version of Catholicism, and whose films are obsessed with a close-up and cloying depiction of violence. What Gibson isn't interested in are female characters or emotional nuance. The result is a film, with a script by Robert Schenkkan (THE PACIFIC) and Andrew Knight (THE WATER DIVINER) that is heavy-handed, emotionally manipulative, and full of cliches and cheesy dialogue, and yet despite all this contains moments of great power and tragedy.
The first half of the film is a kind of PRIVATE BENJAMIN slash FORREST GUMP remake but with Andrew Garfield (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) cast as a kind of goofy simpleton. He just wants to marry his gorgeous nurse sweetheart and protect his fellow soldiers in war despite his objections to holding a gun. We learn in flashback that this stems partly from a backyard scrap with his brother that nearly killed him, but also the example of seeing his father, traumatised by his experience of World War One, turn into a violent alcoholic. In this section, Vince Vaughn gets to do his usual comedy schtick as the fast-talking mean Sergeant who wants to bully Doss out of the army. Poor Teresa Palmer gets nothing to do as Doss' girlfriend except to look pretty and angelic and to be utterly supportive. Indeed the only moment of real cinematic value is Hugo Weaving, who with his portrayal of the tortured ex soldier Papa Doss seems to be acting in another film entirely.