Andrew Garfield received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Private Desmond T. Doss in Hacksaw Ridge.
Andrew Garfield, in a banner year, plays the first of his two roles of 2016 where his character's faith plays a pivotal role, though in rather different ways. The role of Desmond Doss is a challenging role though the type of challenge that one is rarely given credit for. The real Desmond Doss was a rather atypical sort of guy not just because of his heroics, but also just everything about him. Garfield intends to capture that personality that was Doss, which was unusual but that's who he was. Garfield doesn't just do a Virginian accent he does a rather thick one which is only fitting to the real Doss's very thick accent. He actually probably just eases it up just a bit to make it a little easier to hear him. Garfield is rather consistent in his use of the accent. He stays true to it and makes it natural to where his character is from. Garfield work though goes further though in his whole demeanor is defined by optimism. Garfield exudes just a general joy of existence in his Doss, which I'd say is most fitting to a man who can wear a smile on his face after describing removing blood from a man's eyes.
Hacksaw Ridge has received criticism for its supposed sentimental depiction of the early scenes of the film which take place in early 30's/40's Virginia. I would say this has been overstated most obviously because there is nothing sentimental about the depiction of Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) a man permanently scarred by World War I, who lashes out against his family. After watching it again I also noticed that the thing that can most obviously be construed as corny is the depiction of Desmond's relationship with his girlfriend and later wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). The dialogue in these scenes is about as old fashioned as they come, though I must say I don't think this seems ill-fitting to Doss. Garfield matches it essentially by offering a truly sincere portrayal, giving every single hokey word coming from Doss's mouth as the truth at least from this guy who simply loves this woman. Garfield in these scenes does very much call back to an older Hollywood type of romantic, kind of a Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln quite honestly, and again it suits the character.
Again though this is not Garfield just playing a guy who is happy all the time, even if he tries to be happy all the time. We do see the scenes of him dealing with his alcoholic father who most commonly goes from fits of depression to fits of violent anger. In these scenes Garfield gives us a less openly positive Doss conveying the difficulty within the relationship. Garfield presents Desmond most often conveys a quiet troubled sympathy for his father, portraying almost a resistance to hate more than any direct affection for the man. Garfield does not avoid complication in Desmond rather he accentuates that optimism is basically his natural state, which is what he returns to if no other factors are present to dissuade the position. This feels essential to give an understanding to Desmond, particularly once the film moves onto his enlistment into the army where he attempts to join as a combat medic. As Desmond initially only faces the usual drill Sergeant treatment, Garfield again keeps his earnest approach to Desmond who takes this in stride.
This does not last though as Desmond is singled out when he openly refuses to carry a gun yet also refuses to be kicked out of the army based upon the usual grounds. Garfield delivers the needed honesty in Desmond's words and brings the powerful conviction that needs to be in Doss. After all the film is more about conviction than faith. Garfield makes all of his Desmond cohesive as a single man and the conviction in turn does not feel sanctimonious. There is instead a modesty in Garfield's portrayal of it, his major speech explaining his position Garfield with the right quiet eloquence rather than passionate grandstanding. He wears it with only an internalized pride, but never a boastful one. Garfield gives us a man whose goodness is wholly genuine yet I would not say simplified. In order to take his stand Desmond must endure purposeful mistreatment by the army, in an attempt to get him to quit or to pick up the rifle, they even go so far as to take legal action against him. Garfield is excellent because he doesn't simplify this, by showing Desmond does fully understand the severity of the situation. He portrays well the anguish of his treatment, suggesting that Desmond does suffer from the brutal way he is often treated, though he maintains always just that small spark of the man's nature even at his lowest point.
Doss earns his spot on the battlefield which is in no way a reward as the horrors of war quickly become evident on the titular hacksaw ridge where the Japanese troops are heavily fortified. Garfield is not always front and center given that the film covers the various facets of the battle though it always comes back to Doss. Garfield still maintains his position within the carnage though by offering an effective depiction of Doss dealing with the battle. He captures the wear of in his portrayal of Doss. He actually never really breaks down here at all instead excels in wearing it just beneath the surface as though Doss is absorbing it though not allowing it to overwhelm him. He helps to convey the intensity of the battle yet he also is convincing in giving us this man who would be willing to run back into the hell fire after all others have retreated in order to save wounded. This is when the focus does become closer on Garfield and he's great in essentially providing the connection to every moment of Doss's heroics. This is in Garfield still expressing fear of his reactions in the close calls with Japanese, the most minor joy in his face as he saves each man, the physical wear as he pushes himself to the limit, and most importantly the underlying passion that fuels the man in his seemingly impossible task. There are but a few moments after the perilous rescues. They are incredibly well used by Garfield. He does not give us a Doss who has given up, or one who has become filled with vanity over what he has done. Garfield instead gives us a man who has done good, yet has still been through hell in his haunted eyes. This is an exceptional performance, I don't mind saying it, especially since I quite honestly would find it difficult to see any other contemporary actor in this role, or seeing another approach that would have fit Desmond Doss. Although I wonder if he had an even greater work in 2016? Eh, I'll remain silent.