bson’s redemption? Is it his atonement, or perhaps his miracle?
Don’t worry, we won’t be making any such weighty theological pronouncements — though these terms have all been bandied about in the run-up to Gibson’s first directorial effort in the 10 years since “Apocalypto.” That movie came out in 2006, only a few months after news broke of Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic rant, which has plagued his career ever since.
But “Hacksaw Ridge,” the latest contribution to the canon of big World War II films, doesn’t need any redemptive backstory. Whatever you think of Gibson, and whatever your position on the relevance of his personal flaws to his art, his filmmaking prowess is evident. This big, bruising, viscerally violent yet also often moving film should be judged on its merits.
“Hacksaw Ridge,” starring the goofily appealing Andrew Garfield as the real-life character Desmond Doss, may not be a perfect movie, but it strikes an unusual balance. It’s a violent film whose hero — and moral core — espouses non-violence. It’s a war film that will also appeal to a faith-based audience. It’s a film that at moments can feel relentlessly corny — and a second later, painfully, horribly real.
Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist, was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. An Army medic, he refused to touch a weapon, believing he should be saving lives and not taking them. Though his exploits are a matter of record, we won’t spill all the details here.
After an early introduction to Doss as a boy in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, we pick up in young adulthood. When war breaks out with Japan, the young man feels compelled to enlist, despite the objections of his loving but abusive father (an excellent Hugo Weaving), a World War I veteran who was ruined by the experience. Doss is also going against the wishes of his new fiancee, Dorothy (fresh-faced Teresa Palmer), who begs him to stay. (The couple’s meet-cute scenes are charming but extremely retro and not a little corny.)
Doss arrives at training camp, eager to serve. But when he won’t touch a rifle, his superiors are aghast. “Private Doss does not believe in violence,” taunts one sergeant. “Do not look to him to save your life on the battlefield!” He’s played by Vince Vaughn, whose approach at first seems too comedic — as if in another movie. But he soon settles into an effectively understated performance.
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Doss is pressured to leave the Army — subjected to beatings, harassment, ultimately a court-martial — and only survives due to dramatic intervention from on high. And then it’s on to Japan, to Okinawa and specifically the brutal battle at Hacksaw Ridge, high up on a punishing cliff where untold horrors await.
It is here that Gibson’s hand is the surest. The suddenness which with death arrives in combat, the unfathomable randomness of it all, a man’s jaunty bravado crumbling into paralyzing fear — the director sugar-coats nothing. As the men first climb toward their enemy, they pass their fallen comrades. Some corpses are in parts. Some have maggots crawling out of them.
It is during this battle that Doss becomes a hero, finding a way to save countless men by persevering when most others have been forced to retreat. He is guided by his faith; at one point, he asks God out loud what is expected of him. Garfield knows how to make such a scene feel honest — no easy feat.
Many fact-based movies end with some real-life footage. It’s always welcome, but here, it’s truly exciting to see Doss, alive and speaking (he died in 2006). His is a story you probably didn’t know, and will be glad you did. Gibson does well by it.
“Hacksaw Ridge,” a Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.” Running time: 138 minutes. Three stars out of four.
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The true story of Desmond Doss – a conscientious objector who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his selfless contribution in the WWII’s infamous battle of Okinawa – comes to life in one of the most anticipated returns of the year, seeing that the film is directed by the one and only Mel Gibson, in the visually stunning, mercilessly blood and utterly moving, Hacksaw Ridge.
The story is centred on Desmond T. Doss (Garfield); a young man who grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia in a working-class Christian family with an abusive alcoholic father, Tom (Weaving). Having grown up into a kind, responsible and a religious young man, Desmond soon falls for Dorothy; a young nurse who is instantly taken by his unassuming ways and the couple soon gets engaged to be married.
However, before they are able to take their vows, Desmond decides to enlist in the army as he is unable to sit back and watch while his fellow men fight for their country. Joining with the intention of serving as a medic, Desmond – a devout Seventh-day Adventist – is quick to take a proud stand as a conscientious objector; a decision, which naturally puts him at odds with his supervisors, Howell (Vaughn) and Glover (Worthington). Having endured a gruesome hazing period, Desmond’s faith is soon put to the test when his unit is deployed to the island of Okinawa, where they are tasked with an almost impossible mission of taking the gruelling frontline known as Hacksaw Ridge.
It’s been ten years since Mel Gibson was last seen behind the camera and the two-time Oscar winner shows no sign of rust – o the contrary, Gibson’s strong return to the silver screen proves that he is still a quite a skilled storyteller. He spends the first half of the movie establishing base and allowing the audiences to get to know Desmond before eventually diving headfirst into the second half where an impressively ruthless and gory depiction of war awaits.
Notorious for his love of graphic imagery and R-rated violence, Gibson doesn’t shy away from the carnage in what proves to be one of the most harrowing battle scene sequences since Saving Private Ryan. Ensuring that each frame is given its own importance, the attention to detail is sublime with cinematographer, Simon Duggan, making sure that the audiences are able to keep up with the piling bodies and flying bullets at all times.
Garfield’s casting raised a few eyebrows, but the young British actor gives his character a self-effacing appeal and quiet determination that ensures the audience is on his side from the start.
Despite on-the-nose religious imagery and undertones, Gibson delivers a grisly and moving cinematic experience; but deep at the heart Hacksaw Ridge are universal messages of courage, belief and a relieving return for the controversial Gibson.
Drama/Action: A conscientious objector joins the American forces during WWII as a medic and must contend with others’ views of him as well as serving in combat.
It’s the 1940s and Desmond T. Doss (ANDREW GARFIELD) is a young Virginia man who’s decided he can no longer sit by while others go off to war to fight the enemy. That decision doesn’t sit well with his parents, Tom (HUGO WEAVING) and Bertha (RACHEL GRIFFITHS), especially due to their religious beliefs and having to deal with Tom’s untreated PTSD following his service in WWI. It also confuses Desmond’s nurse girlfriend, Dorothy Schutte (TERESA PALMER), who knows he’s a pacifist due to his religious beliefs, but his plan is to become a combat medic to help others.
During basic training, Desmond’s stance of being a conscientious objector — and refusing to handle any weapons — doesn’t sit well with his drill instructor, Sergeant Howell (VINCE VAUGHN), or commanding officer, Captain Glover (SAM WORTHINGTON), a sentiment shared by other soldiers such as Smitty (LUKE BRACEY) who doesn’t understand why Desmond joined the military if that’s his stance. Despite that, physical abuse and even a court martial trial, Desmond perseveres, and through a stroke of luck and his father’s intervention, the would-be medic is allowed to continue.
He ultimately ends up in Okinawa with Sgt. Howell and Capt. Glover and the rest of his platoon that includes, among others, Smitty, Andy ‘Ghoul’ Walker (GORAN D. KLEUT) and Milt ‘Hollywood’ Zane (LUKE PEGLER). Their objective is to ascend a sheer, several hundred foot tall cliff and take a piece of land that’s become known as Hacksaw Ridge due to the carnage inflicted by the Japanese forces positioned there. Still refusing to handle a weapon, Desmond joins the others in combat and does what he can to save as many of his fellow G.I.s as he can.
OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
It’s been seventy-one years since the Germans and then Japanese separately surrendered to Allied forces to put an end to WWII. During that period, there have been countless films made about that conflict based on both true events and figures, and fictitious ones using the global war as the backdrop for their stories.
While the latter can and probably will keep coming until they’re not making movies anymore, when considering all of those years and films, you’d think we would have seen recreations of every true-life tale possible. Yet, every once in awhile, a previously untold story gets to see the light of day and that from a projector.
Sometimes that’s due to those involved in such matters — or their families — not wanting the story told until after their passing. Others sometimes have a change of heart in such regards and eventually sell their story to Hollywood, while a few sometimes weren’t previously considered big or noteworthy enough to be turned into a movie.
I have no idea why the unique tale of Desmond Doss and his involvement in the brutal American assault on the titular locale in “Hacksaw Ridge” took those 71 years to make it onto the big screen, but the reason definitely does not fall into that last category. And that’s because Doss, a 26-year-old Virginia native at the time the main part of this war story takes place, is one of the most unique real-life figures in that war and thus on the screen as well.
A self-proclaimed pacifist and conscientious objector, he joined the military to serve his country. That obviously didn’t sit well with his fellow soldiers, drill sergeant or commanding officer, and he endured lots of verbal and sometimes physical abuse for his unusual stance. But the fact that he ended up saving 75 of his fellow men from the carnage of 1945 — serving as a medic and without ever using or even touching a weapon to be used in self-defense — not only makes him a noteworthy real-life hero, but it also makes for an interesting and engaging character in what turns out to be a memorable and terrific film.
And one that’s likely going to resurrect the Hollywood career of none other than Mel Gibson. A breakout star many, many moons ago as an actor who then went behind the camera to helm a number of films, including the blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ,” Gibson created a media and social firestorm with his very public (and apparently very intoxicated) anti-Semitic comments.
After that, everyone figured he was done in the movie world. But with this war flick — that received a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival in September — clearly signals his return and could very well turn out to be a huge commercial and artistic hit. And that’s not only due to it being a well-made, gripping and emotionally moving film, but also one that plays across all political spectrums. It’s both anti-war and rah-rah patriotism in one expertly assembled package, and in that way, it somewhat resembles “American Sniper” (that also became an unexpected blockbuster stateside).
What makes that remarkable is that on a basic level, it’s quite similar to countless other films we’ve seen before. We have a young, charming guy (an uber-winning Andrew Garfield who should get some major award consideration) from small town America who ends up in the military where he must contend with a very vocal and verbally abusive drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn, seemingly miscast at first due to his recent spate of goofy comedies, but who uses that comedic touch to great advantage here). After a chunk of the film is devoted to such basic training, he then ends up in combat and in the literal and figurative vein of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” he and we witness the no holds barred carnage of combat.
So, one can easily be led to believe this is just another of those green recruit goes to war and grows up stories. It is that, but so much more, thanks to how Gibson has assembled everything (working from Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan’s screenplay that’s based on Booton Herndon’s book) and the solid to terrific performances from all involved (including Teresa Palmer as the protagonist’s nurse girlfriend, Hugo Weaving as his WWI veteran father who’s long suffered from PTSD and Luke Bracey as a fellow soldier who goes from bully to good friend). The offering also works thanks to the smart use of some comic relief to temper the grisly stuff and allow us to connect with the characters even better, not to mention the unusual heroic protagonist around which everything revolves.
Simply put, this is a terrific war film that not only brings to light the tale of a remarkable real-life man in a story I’d never heard of before, but also a movie that could prove to be a legendary actor and director’s redemption and resurrection in an industry where he was otherwise pretty much declared dead. “Hacksaw Ridge” rates as an 8 out of 10.
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