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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mel Gibson|
|Music by||Rupert Gregson-Williams|
|Edited by||John Gilbert|
|Box office||$175.3 million|
Hacksaw Ridge is a 2016 biographical war drama film directed by Mel Gibson and written by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, based on the 2004 documentary The Conscientious Objector. The film focuses on the World War II experiences of Desmond Doss, an American pacifist combat medic who was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, refusing to carry or use a firearm or weapons of any kind. Doss became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor, for service above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Okinawa. Andrew Garfield stars as Doss, with Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, and Vince Vaughn in supporting roles.
The film was released in the United States on November 4, 2016, grossing $175.3 million worldwide and received positive reviews, with Gibson's direction and Garfield's performance earning notable praise. Hacksaw Ridge was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of its top ten Movies of the Year, and has received numerous awards and nominations. The film received six Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Garfield and Best Sound Editing, winning the awards for Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing. It also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, and 12 AACTA Awards nominations, winning the majority, including Best Film, Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor for Garfield, and Best Supporting Actor for Weaving.
As a young boy, Desmond Doss nearly kills his younger brother Hal. This experience and his Seventh-day Adventist upbringing reinforce Desmond's belief in the commandment "Thou shalt not kill". Years later, Doss takes an injured man to the hospital and meets a nurse, Dorothy Schutte. The two begin a relationship and Doss tells Dorothy of his interest in medical work.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Doss is motivated to enlist in the Army and intends to serve as a combat medic. His father Tom, a troubled World War I veteran, is deeply upset by the decision. Before leaving for Fort Jackson, he asks for Dorothy's hand in marriage and she accepts.
Doss is placed under the command of Sergeant Howell. He excels physically but becomes an outcast among his fellow soldiers for refusing to handle a rifle and train on Saturdays. Howell and Captain Glover attempt to discharge Doss for psychiatric reasons but are overruled, as Doss' religious beliefs do not constitute mental illness. They subsequently torment Doss by putting him through grueling labor, intending to get Doss to leave of his own accord. Despite being beaten one night by his fellow soldiers, he refuses to identify his attackers and continues training.
Doss' unit completes basic training and is released on leave, during which Doss intends to marry Dorothy, but his refusal to carry a firearm leads to an arrest for insubordination. Captain Glover and Dorothy visit Doss in jail and try to convince him to plead guilty so that he can be released without charge but Doss refuses to compromise his beliefs. At his trial, Doss pleads not guilty, but before he is sentenced, his father barges into the tribunal with a letter from a former commanding officer stating that his son's pacifism is protected by an Act of Congress. The charges against Doss are dropped, and he and Dorothy are married.
Doss' unit is assigned to the 77th Infantry Division and deployed to the Pacific theater. During the Battle of Okinawa, Doss' unit is informed that they are to relieve the 96th Infantry Division, which was tasked with ascending and securing the Maeda Escarpment ("Hacksaw Ridge”). In the initial fight, both sides sustain heavy losses, and Doss successfully saves several soldiers, including those with severe injuries. The Americans camp for the night, which Doss spends in a foxhole with Smitty, a squadmate who was the first to call Doss a coward. Doss reveals that his aversion to holding a firearm stems from nearly shooting his drunken father, who threatened his mother with a gun. Smitty apologizes for doubting his courage and the two make amends.
The next morning, the Japanese launch a massive counterattack and drive the Americans off the escarpment. Smitty is killed, while Howell and several of Doss' squad mates are left injured on the battlefield. Doss hears the cries of the dying soldiers and decides to run back into the carnage. He starts carrying wounded soldiers to the cliff's edge and belaying them down by rope, each time praying to save one more. The arrival of dozens of wounded once presumed dead comes as a shock to the rest of the unit below. When day breaks, Doss rescues Howell and the two finally escape Hacksaw under enemy fire.
Captain Glover tells Doss that the men have been inspired by his miraculous efforts, and that they will not launch the next attack without him. Despite the next day being the Sabbath day, he joins his fellow soldiers after finishing his prayers. With reinforcements, they turn the tide of battle. During an ambush set by Japanese soldiers feigning surrender, Doss manages to save Glover and others by knocking away enemy grenades. Doss is eventually wounded by a grenade blast, but the battle is won. Doss descends the cliff, clutching the Bible Dorothy gave him.
The film switches to real-life photos and archive footage showing that after rescuing 75 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge, Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman. Doss stayed married to Dorothy until her death in 1991. He died on March 23, 2006, at the age of 87.
The project was in development hell for 14 years. Numerous producers had tried for decades to film Doss' story, including decorated war hero Audie Murphy and Hal B. Wallis (producer of Casablanca).
In 2001, after finally convincing Doss that making a movie on his remarkable life was the right thing to do, screenwriter/producer Gregory Crosby (grandson of Bing Crosby) wrote the treatment and brought the project to film producer David Permut, of Permut Presentations, through the early efforts of Stan Jensen of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which ultimately led to the film being financed.
In 2004, director Terry Benedict won the rights to make a documentary about Doss, The Conscientious Objector, and secured the dramatic film rights in the process. However, Doss died in 2006, after which producer Bill Mechanic acquired and then sold the rights to Walden Media, which developed the project along with producer David Permut. Co-producers of the film are Gregory Crosby and Steve Longi. Walden Media insisted on a PG-13 version of the battle, and Mechanic spent years working to buy the rights back.
After acquiring the rights, Mechanic approached Mel Gibson, and wanted him to create a concoction of violence and faith, as he did with The Passion of the Christ (2004). Gibson turned down the offer twice, as he previously did with Braveheart (1995). Then nearly a decade later, Gibson finally agreed to helm the film, a decision announced in November 2014. The same month, Andrew Garfield was confirmed to play the role of Desmond Doss.
With a budget of $40 million, the team still faced many challenges. Hacksaw Ridge became an international co-production, with key players and firms located in both the United States and Australia. When Australian tax incentives were taken off the table, the film had to qualify as Australian to receive government subsidies. Despite being American-born, Gibson's early years in Australia helped the film qualify, along with most of the cast being Australian, including Rachel Griffiths (Doss' mother), Teresa Palmer (Doss' wife), Sam Worthington (unit leader), Hugo Weaving (as Doss' father), Richard Roxburgh (as a colonel) and Luke Bracey (as Smitty, one of Doss' most antagonistic unit members). Rounding out the cast was American actor Vince Vaughn.
On February 9, 2015, IM Global closed a deal to finance the film, and also sold the film into the international markets. On the same day, Lionsgate acquired the North American distribution rights to the film. Chinese distribution rights were acquired by Bliss Media, a Shanghai-based film production and distribution company.
Hacksaw Ridge is the first film directed by Gibson since Apocalypto in 2006, and marks a departure from his previous films, such as Apocalypto and Braveheart, in which the protagonists acted violently.
Robert Schenkkan and Randall Wallace wrote the script, and Wallace was previously attached to direct the film. Andrew Knight polished the original script. Gibson's partner Bruce Davey also produced the film, along with Paul Currie.
The cast – Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths, Richard Roxburgh, Luke Pegler, Richard Pyros, Ben Mingay, Firass Dirani, Nico Cortez, Michael Sheasby, Goran Kleut, Jacob Warner, Harry Greenwood, Damien Thomlinson, Ben O’Toole, Benedict Hardie, Robert Morgan, Ori Pfeffer, Milo Gibson, and Nathaniel Buzolic, Hugo Weaving, and Ryan Corr – was announced between November 2014 and October 2015. The younger Doss was played by Darcy Bryce.
Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a US Army medic awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman for saving lives during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Garfield had high regards for Doss, and venerated him for his act of bravery, hailing him as a "wonderful symbol of embodying the idea of live and let live no matter what your ideology is, no matter what your value system is, just to allow other people to be who they are and allow yourself to be who you are." He found the idea of playing a real superhero, as compared to his past roles playing Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, much more inspiring. Garfield admitted that he cried the first time he read the screenplay. He visited Doss' hometown and touched his various tools. Gibson was drawn to Garfield the first time he saw his performance in The Social Network.
Palmer wanted a role in the film so badly that she auditioned via phone, and sent the recording to Gibson. She heard nothing back for three months, until Gibson called Palmer to tell her in a Skype chat that he had cast her in the role of Dorothy, Doss' wife.
Principal photography started on September 29, 2015, and lasted for 59 days, ending in December of that year. Filming took place entirely in Australia. The film was based at Fox Studios in Sydney, after producers vigorously scouted for locations around the country. Filming took place mostly in the state of New South Wales — where Gibson spent much of his early years — in and around Sydney such as in Richmond, Bringelly, and Oran Park. Gibson moved to the state in July 2015, two months before filming began. The graveyard scene was shot at a set-constructed cemetery in Sydney's Centennial Park. The grounds of Newington Armory at Sydney Olympic Park were used as Fort Jackson. Filming in Bringelly required the team to clear and deforest over 500 hectares of land, which evoked the ire of some environmentalists. However, the producers had complete approval and clearance to do so. Also conditions were imposed to replant and rehabilitate part of the land after filming ceased. According to Troy Grant, New South Wales' deputy premier and minister for the arts, the film brought 720 jobs and US$19 million to regional and rural New South Wales.
Altogether, three jeeps, two trucks and a tank were featured in the film. Bulldozers and backhoes were used to transform a dairy pasture near Sydney to re-create the Okinawa battlefield. A berm had to be raised around the perimeter so cameras could turn 360 degrees without getting any eucalyptus trees in the background. Gibson did not want to rely heavily on computer visual effects, either on the screen or in pre-visualizing the battle scenes. Visual effects were used only during bloody scenes, like napalm-burnt soldiers. During filming of the war scenes, Gibson incorporated his past war-movie experiences, and would yell to the actors, reminding them constantly of what they were fighting for.
After the war, Doss turned down many requests for books and film versions of his actions, because he was wary of whether his life, wartime experiences, and Seventh-day Adventist beliefs would be portrayed inaccurately or sensationally. Doss' only child, Desmond Doss Jr., stated: "The reason he declined is that none of them adhered to his one requirement: that it be accurate. And I find it remarkable, the level of accuracy in adhering to the principle of the story in this movie." Producer David Permut stated that the filmmakers took great care in maintaining the integrity of the story, since Doss was very religious.
However, the filmmakers did change some details, notably the backstory about his father, the incident with the gun Doss took out of his alcoholic father's hands, and the circumstances of his first marriage. The film also omits his prior combat service in the Battle of Guam and Battle of Leyte (Doss was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for extraordinary bravery in both battles), and leaves the impression that Doss' actions at Okinawa took place over a period of a few days, though his Medal of Honor citation covered his actions over a period of about three weeks.
The world premiere of Hacksaw Ridge occurred on September 4, 2016, at the 73rd Venice Film Festival, where it received a 10-minute standing ovation. The film was released in Australia on November 3, 2016, by Icon Film Distribution, and in the United States on November 4, 2016, by Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment. It was released by Bliss Media in China in November, and in the United Kingdom in 2017, with IM Global handling international sales.
Hacksaw Ridge grossed $67.1 million in the United States and Canada and $108.2 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $175.3 million, against a production budget of $40 million.
The film opened alongside Doctor Strange and Trolls, and was projected to gross around $12 million from 2,886 theaters. It was expected to play very well among faith-based, Midwest, and Southern audiences. It made $5.2 million on its first day and $15.2 million in its opening weekend, finishing third at the box office. The debut was on par with the $15 million opening of Gibson's last directorial effort, Apocalypto, in 2006. In its second weekend, the film grossed $10.8 million (a drop of just 29.1%), finishing 5th at the box office.
The film also opened successfully in China, grossing over $16 million in its first four days at the box office.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 86%, based on 232 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Hacksaw Ridge uses a real-life pacifist's legacy to lay the groundwork for a gripping wartime tribute to faith, valor, and the courage of remaining true to one's convictions." On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average to reviews, the film has a score of 71 out of 100, based on reviews from 47 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
The Milford Daily News called the film a "masterpiece", adding that it "is going to end up on many 2016 Top 10 lists, that should get Oscar nominations for Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture." Maggie Stancu of Movie Pilot wrote that "Gibson made some of his most genius directing choices in Hacksaw Ridge, and Garfield has given his best performance yet. With amazing performances by Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington and Hugo Weaving, it is absolutely one of 2016's must-see films." Mick LaSalle of SFGate called the film "a brilliant return for Mel Gibson, which confirms his position as a director with a singular talent for spectacle and a sure way with actors." In The Film Lawyers, Samar Khan called Hacksaw Ridge "fantastic," and emphasised "just how wonderful it is to have Gibson back in a more prominent position in Hollywood, hopefully with the demons of his past behind him. If Hacksaw Ridge is any indication, we are poised for a future filled with great films from the visionary director." The Telegraph awarded the film four stars, and added: "Hacksaw Ridge is a fantastically moving and bruising war film that hits you like a raw topside of beef in the face – a kind of primary-coloured Guernica that flourishes on a big screen with a crowd.”
The Guardian also awarded the film four stars, and stated that Gibson had "absolutely hit Hacksaw Ridge out of the park." The Australian's reviewer was equally positive, stating that, as a director, "Gibson’s approach is bold and fearless; this represents his best work to date behind the camera." Rex Reed of Observer rated the film with four stars, and called it "the best war film since Saving Private Ryan... [I]t is violent, harrowing, heartbreaking and unforgettable. And yes, it was directed by Mel Gibson. He deserves a medal, too" Michael Smith of Tulsa World called Hacksaw Ridge a "moving character study" and praised both the direction and acting. He observed: "It’s truly remarkable how Gibson can film scenes of such heartfelt emotion with such sweet subtlety as easily as he stages some of the most vicious, visual scenes of violence that you will ever see. ... Hacksaw Ridge is beautiful and brutal, and that’s a potent combination for a movie about a man determined to serve his country, as well as his soul." IGN critic Alex Welch gave the film a score of 8/10, praising it as "one of the most successful war films of recent memory," and "at times horrifying, inspiring, and heart-wrenching." Mike Ryan of Uproxx gave the film a positive review, praising Gibson's direction and saying, "There are two moments during the second half of Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge when I literally jumped out of my seat in terror. The film's depiction of war is the best I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 3.5 stars, writing, "Thanks to some of the greatest battle scenes ever filmed, Gibson once again shows his staggering gifts as a filmmaker, able to juxtapose savagery with aching tenderness." In contrast, Matt Zoller Seitz for RogerEbert.com gave the film 2.5 stars, and described the film as "a movie at war with itself."
Hacksaw Ridge won Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Garfield and Best Sound Editing at the Academy Awards. The film won Best Editing and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Garfield, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound and Best Makeup and Hair at the British Academy Film Awards. The film won Best Action Movie and Best Actor in an Action Movie for Garfield and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Garfield, Best Editing and Best Hair and Makeup at the Critics' Choice Awards. The film received three nominations at the Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama for Garfield and Best Director. The film won Best Actor for Garfield, Best Film Editing and Best Sound and was nominated for Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Art Direction and Production Design at the Satellite Awards.
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