Hacksaw Ridge is a 2016 American-Australian biographical war 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, as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, refused to carry or use a weapon or firearm of any kind. Doss became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honour, 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.
In 1925 Lynchburg, Virginia, young Desmond Doss nearly kills his brother during roughhousing. That event and his Seventh-day Adventist upbringing reinforce Desmond’s belief in the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” Fifteen years later, Doss takes an injured man to the hospital and meets a nurse, Dorothy Schutte. They strike a romance, and Doss tells Dorothy of his interest in medical work.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Doss enlists in the United States Army to serve as a combat medic. His father, Tom, a Great War veteran, is deeply upset by the decision. Before leaving for Fort Jackson, Desmond asks for Dorothy’s hand in marriage, and she accepts.
Doss is placed in basic training under the command of Sergeant Howell. He excels physically but becomes a pariah 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 under Section 8 but are overruled, as Doss’s religious beliefs do not constitute mental illness. They subsequently torment Doss by putting him through gruelling labour, 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’s 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 court-martial, Doss pleads not guilty, but before he is sentenced, his father barges into the tribunal with a letter from his former commanding officer (now a brigadier general) stating that his son’s pacifism is protected by the US Constitution. The charges against Doss are dropped, and he and Dorothy are married.
Doss’s unit is assigned to the 77th Infantry Division and deployed to the Pacific Theatre. During the Battle of Okinawa, Doss’s unit is informed that it will relieve the 96th Infantry Division, which was tasked with ascending and securing the Maeda Escarpment (“Hacksaw Ridge”). During the initial fight, with heavy losses on both sides, Doss saves the life of his squad mate Smitty, earning his respect. As the Americans camp for the night, Doss reveals to Smitty that his aversion to holding a firearm stems from nearly shooting his drunken father, who threatened his mother with a gun. Smitty apologises for doubting his courage, and both reconcile.
The next morning, the Japanese launch a massive counterattack and drive the Americans off the escarpment. Smitty is killed, and Howell and several of Doss’s squad mates are left injured on the battlefield. Doss hears the cries of dying soldiers and returns to save them, carrying the wounded to the cliff’s edge and belaying them down by rope, each time praying to save one more. The arrival of dozens of wounded who had been presumed dead comes as a shock to the rest of the unit below. When day breaks, Doss rescues Howell, and both escape Hacksaw under enemy fire.
Captain Glover apologises for dismissing Doss’s beliefs as “cowardice” and states that they are scheduled to retake the ridge on Saturday but will not launch the next attack without him. Doss agrees, but the operation is delayed until after he concludes his Sabbath prayers. With reinforcements, they turn the tide of battle. In an ambush set by Japanese soldiers who pretend to surrender, Doss manages to save Glover and others by deflecting enemy grenades. Doss is wounded by a grenade blast, but the battle is won. Doss is lowered from the cliff clutching the Bible that Dorothy had given to him.
The film switches to real photos and footage showing that Doss was awarded the Medal of Honour by President Harry S. Truman for rescuing 75 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge. Doss stayed married to Dorothy until her death in 1991. He died on 23 March 2006, at the age of 87.
- Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss.
- Sam Worthington as Captain Jack Glover.
- Luke Bracey as ‘Smitty’ Ryker.
- Hugo Weaving as Tom Doss, Desmond’s father.
- Teresa Palmer as Dorothy Schutte, Desmond’s wife.
- Rachel Griffiths as Bertha Doss, Desmond’s mother.
- Vince Vaughn as Sergeant Howell.
- Ryan Corr as Lieutenant Manville.
- Richard Roxburgh as Colonel Stelzer.
- Luke Pegler as Milt ‘Hollywood’ Zane.
- Richard Pyros as Randall ‘Teach’ Fuller.
- Ben Mingay as ‘Grease’ Nolan.
- Michael Sheasby as ‘Tex’ Lewis.
- Firass Dirani as Vito Rinnelli.
- Damien Thomlinson as Ralph Morgan.
- Matt Nable as Lieutenant Colonel Cooney.
- Robert Morgan as Colonel Sangston.
- Nathaniel Buzolic as Harold ‘Hal’ Doss, Desmond’s brother.
- Milo Gibson as ‘Lucky’ Ford.
- Goran D. Kleut as Andy ‘Ghoul’ Walker.
Hacksaw Ridge was in development limbo for 14 years. Numerous producers had tried for decades to film Doss’s story, including decorated war hero Audie Murphy and Hal B. Wallis.
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 cooperation 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. Gregory Crosby and Steve Longi served as co-producers. 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). Nearly a decade later, Gibson finally agreed to direct, 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, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, and Luke Bracey. Rounding out the cast was American actor Vince Vaughn. According to producer Bill Mechanic, Australian state and federal subsidies made financing the film possible. James M. Vernon, an Australian Executive Producer on Hacksaw Ridge helped the film qualify for Australian government subsidies.
On 09 February 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 made the initial draft and Randall Wallace, who was previously attached to direct the film, rewrote the script. Andrew Knight polished the revised 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 Honour by President Harry S. Truman for saving lives during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Garfield had high regard 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.
Principal photography started on 29 September 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 – in Richmond, Bringelly, and Oran Park. The graveyard scene was shot at a set-constructed cemetery in 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. A former quarry adjacent to the Main Southern railway line north of Goulburn was used to film cliff top scenes. According to Minister for the Arts, Troy Grant, 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-visualising 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.
Kevin O’Connell, who won his first Academy Awards for sound mixing in this film (after 21 nominations), stated that budget constraints forced him to use archival sounds of WWII-era weapons.
The film has been described as an anti-war film, with pacifist themes. It also incorporates recurring religious imagery, such as baptism and ascension.
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’s 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 principal 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 changed some details, notably the backstory of his father being a World War I veteran, the incident with the gun Doss took out of his alcoholic father’s hands, and the circumstances of his first marriage. The character of Smitty, portrayed by Luke Bracey, is an amalgamation of various soldiers who tormented Doss and was created for narrative reasons. Other changes to the story occur near the end of the movie, when Doss is placed on a stretcher. In real life, Doss had another wounded man take his place on the stretcher. After treating the soldier, a sniper shot fractured Doss’s arm, and he crawled 300 yards (270 m) to safety after being left alone for five hours. Gibson omitted that from the film because he felt that the audience would not find the scene believable. 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 it leaves the impression that Doss’s actions at Okinawa took place over a period of a few days, but his Medal of Honour citation covered his actions over a period of about three weeks (29 April to 21 May). The visual blog Information is Beautiful stated that the film was 52.7% accurate when compared to real-life events, summarizing that “most of the main war-related events did take place, although not all in the timeframe of the film… also, much of the pre-war stuff is either invented or distorted.”
James Horner was originally approached to compose the score for the film but was replaced by John Debney after Horner’s untimely death in 2015. Debney was himself replaced by Rupert Gregson-Williams after his score was rejected before Hacksaw Ridge was set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival. When composing the music Gregson-Williams commented: “The soundtrack is really in two parts. A lovely romance blossoms as Desmond discovers both the love of his life and his faith. The second half of the movie is brutal…We wanted to reflect his spirituality without being pious, and his bravery without celebrating violence.” The film’s accompanying score was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, with an orchestra of 70 musicians and a 36-voice choir conducted by Cliff Masterson.
All tracks are written by Rupert Gregson-Williams.
The world premiere of Hacksaw Ridge occurred on 04 September 2016, at the 73rd Venice Film Festival, where it received a 10-minute standing ovation. The film was released in Australia on 03 November 2016, by Icon Film Distribution, and in the United States on 04 November 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.
On 28 July 2016, Lionsgate released the only official trailer for Hacksaw Ridge which garnered millions of views. In partnership with Disabled American Veterans, Gibson screened the film at both the DAV National Convention and VFW National Convention in August 2016 to raise awareness of veterans’ issues. Within the same month, Gibson also appeared at Pastor Greg Laurie’s SoCal Harvest in Anaheim, California to promote the film. A number of Seventh-day Adventist ministries offered free copies of the Hero of Hacksaw Ridge book during the film’s release as well as created promotional materials to highlight Doss’s faith. On 24 February 2017, Reto-Moto and Lionsgate announced a cross-promotion where the purchase of a DLC pack for Heroes & Generals would also give the purchaser a digital copy of the film.
Hacksaw Ridge grossed $67.2 million in the United States and Canada and $113.2 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $180.4 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 behind Doctor Strange and Trolls. 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 $10.6 million (a drop of just 30%), 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 and over $60 million in total.
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.
Production & Filming Details
- Mel Gibson.
- Michael Bassick … executive producer.
- Lawrence Bender … executive producer.
- Terry Benedict … producer (produced by).
- Len Blavatnik … executive producer.
- Tina Xiuli Chen … co-producer.
- Gregory Crosby … co-producer.
- Paul Currie … producer (produced by).
- Bruce Davey … producer (produced by).
- Stuart Ford … executive producer.
- Barbara Gibbs … line producer.
- David S. Greathouse … executive producer (as David Greathouse).
- Eric Greenfeld … executive producer.
- William D. Johnson … producer (produced by).
- Lenny Kornberg … executive producer.
- Joel Kramer … associate producer.
- Steve Longi … co-producer.
- Mark C. Manuel … executive producer.
- Bill Mechanic … producer (produced by).
- Zak Mechanic … co-producer.
- Rick Nicita … executive producer.
- Ted O’Neal … executive producer.
- Brian Oliver … producer (produced by).
- James H. Pang … co-executive producer.
- Buddy Patrick … executive producer.
- David Permut … producer (produced by).
- Elexa Ruth … co-producer.
- Jason Seagraves … co-producer.
- Lauren Selig … executive producer.
- Tyler Thompson … executive producer.
- James M. Vernon … executive producer.
- Gabe Videla … associate producer.
- Suzanne Warren … executive producer.
- Christopher Woodrow … executive producer.
- Leo Shi Young … co-executive producer.
- Helen Ye Zhong … co-producer (as Helen Y. Zhong).
- Robert Schenkkan … (screenplay by).
- Andrew Knight … (screenplay by).
- Rupert Gregson-Williams.
- Simon Duggan.
- John Gilbert.
- Summit Entertainment (presents).
- Cross Creek Pictures (presents).
- Demarest Films (in association with) (as Demarest Media).
- Argent Pictures (in association with).
- Bliss Media (in association with) (as Bliss Media Ltd.).
- Vendian Entertainment.
- IM Global (produced in association with).
- AI-Film (produced in association with) (as AI Film Productions).
- Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
- Kylin Pictures (in association with).
- Icon Productions.
- Permut Presentations.
- Screen Australia (support).
- Screen NSW (with the assistance of).
- Lionsgate (2016) (USA) (theatrical).
- Lionsgate UK (2017) (UK) (theatrical).
- GEM Entertainment (2016) (Non-US) (all media) (multi-territory).
- Batrax Entertainment (2016) (Non-US) (all media) (multi-territory).
- Film & TV House (2016) (Non-US) (all media) (multi-territory).
- ACME (2016) (Estonia) (theatrical).
- ACME (2016) (Lithuania) (theatrical).
- ACME (2016) (Latvia) (theatrical).
- Applause Entertainment (2016) (Taiwan) (theatrical).
- Bioscop (2016) (Czech Republic) (theatrical).
- Black Sheep Films (2016) (South Africa) (theatrical).
- Blitz Film & Video Distribution (2016) (Slovenia) (theatrical).
- Bravos Pictures (2016) (Hong Kong) (theatrical).
- Constantin-Film (2017) (Austria) (theatrical).
- DeAPlaneta (2016) (Spain) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2017) (Argentina) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2016) (Bolivia) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2016) (Brazil) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2016) (Chile) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2016) (Colombia) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2016) (Mexico) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2016) (Peru) (theatrical).
- Eagle Pictures (2017) (Italy) (theatrical).
- Elevation Pictures (2016) (Canada) (theatrical).
- Freeman Entertainment (2016) (Romania) (theatrical).
- Future Film (2016) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Huaxia Film Distribution (2016) (China) (theatrical).
- Icon Film Distribution (2016) (Australia) (theatrical).
- Kinepolis Film Distribution (KFD) (2016) (Belgium) (theatrical).
- Kino Films (2017) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Leone Film Group (2017) (Italy) (theatrical).
- Longride (2017) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Magic Box (2016) (Slovakia) (theatrical).
- Meloman (2016) (Kazakhstan) (theatrical).
- Metropolitan Filmexport (2016) (France) (theatrical).
- Mis. Label (2017) (Denmark) (theatrical).
- Monolith Films (2016) (Poland) (theatrical).
- NOS Audiovisuais (2016) (Portugal) (theatrical).
- Noble Entertainment (2016) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Orange Entertainment (2016) (Uruguay) (theatrical).
- PT. Prima Cinema Multimedia (2016) (Indonesia) (theatrical).
- Pancinema (2017) (South Korea) (theatrical).
- Pinema (2016) (Turkey) (theatrical).
- SF Norge A/S (2016) (Norway) (theatrical).
- Selim Ramia & Sons (2016) (Lebanon) (theatrical).
- Sony Pictures Releasing (2017) (Philippines) (theatrical).
- Spentzos Films (2016) (Greece) (theatrical).
- Splendid Film (2016) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2016) (Denmark) (theatrical).
- United King Films (2017) (Israel) (theatrical).
- Universum Film (UFA) (2017) (Germany) (theatrical).
- Venus Films (2016) (Ecuador) (theatrical).
- Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (2016) (Thailand) (theatrical).
- Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (2017) (Singapore) (theatrical).
- Walt Disney Studios Sony Pictures Releasing (WDSSPR) (2016) (Russia) (theatrical).
- A&E (2019) (USA) (TV).
- Bliss Media (2016) (China) (all media).
- History Channel (2019) (USA) (TV).
- Hrvatska Radiotelevizija (HRT) (2019) (Croatia) (TV).
- KVH Media Group (2017) (World-wide) (all media) (Ships).
- RTL Entertainment (2021) (Netherlands) (TV) (RTL7).
- Splendid Film (2017) (Netherlands) (Blu-ray).
- Release Date: 04 September 2016 (Venice Film Festival, Premiere) and 24 September 2016 (London, UK).
- Running time: 139 minutes.
- Rating: Unknown.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.