By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
In 1945, President Harry S. Truman presented Army medic Desmond Doss with the Congressional Medal of Honor for going above and beyond the call of duty and rescuing 75 infantrymen during the near-catastrophic Battle of Okinawa in World War II. That is tremendously amazing for a pacifist, conscientious objector who volunteered for service, but refused to fire weapons. Doss’s story is a truly remarkable one about a man with strong convictions and beliefs who faced adversity during his army training, but endured it to fulfill his desire to serve, and proved all of his naysayers wrong with his acts of selfless valor. Director Mel Gibson’s new film, Hacksaw Ridge, serves as a loving and inspiration tribute to Desmond Doss, a man with not only the courage to fight for his beliefs, but the courage to never waive them in the faces of his opposition–both domestic and foreign.Andrew Garfield stars as Doss, a sweet and unassuming country boy who grows up in Lynchburg, Virginia. Raised as a devout Christian, Doss has strict, uncompromising beliefs against killing of any kind. Inspired by his brother Harold (Nathaniel Buzolic) and other brave young men volunteering, Desmond enlists, under the condition that he can serve as a medic and will not ever have to pick up a weapon. Once he begins training, however, his superiors insist that he must complete weapons training, or face a dishonorable discharge and a possible court martial. Before he can even prove his bravery on the battlefield, Doss will have to stand up to his superiors and fight for his firm beliefs.
With a screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, Mel Gibson does a fine job combining the harsh, visceral realities of combat with the heart and soul of Desmond’s convictions. The film is a two-parter story of courage, as Doss must first battle his own military and government for the right to exercise his religious beliefs. Once he succeeds, he must practice this credo on the battlefield where it can be so easy to abandon it. The writing never gets overly preachy or manipulative, which is refreshing for a movie with Christian faith themes.
Gibson, cinematographer Simon Duggan, and their technical crew have created some truly stunning and intense battle sequences. However, I do have a complaint with some of the images which feel too theatrical, not so realistic and a bit out of place within mostly authentic-looking battle scenes. Still, despite some of these odd visual choices, the effects team, sound crew and editor have made some impressive and difficult-to-watch moments that should make most people cringe in their seats. In addition to the solid writing and mostly great direction, the film features some impressive performances by the cast.
The movie offers some first-rate work by Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, and Rachel Griffiths. Two of the real stand-out performances come from Vince Vaughn and Hugo Weaving. Vaughn, who stars as Doss’s army trainer Sgt. Howell, refreshingly has taken a role that blends his comic timing, intensity, and his oft-underused talent for more serious and dramatic work. Hugo Weaving delivers a powerful and emotionally charged performance as Desmond’s abusive father Tom Doss, a war veteran who suffers PTSD and struggles with alcoholism. As for Garfield, I have to say I was genuinely impressed with his starring turn as Desmond Doss. Garfield’s boyish charm and earnestness works tremendously well for the role and he obviously puts much heart and passion into the role. Depending on how the rest of the year fares on the acting side, I believe in the strong possibility that both Garfield and Weaving might be up for consideration when it comes to accolades.
Regardless of one’s own religious beliefs, or lack thereof, no one cannot deny how inspirational Desmond Doss’s story is. Mel Gibson, his writers, cast and crew have done some fine work on this film and I feel that most people will connect with it emotionally. The combination of the well-written script and the mostly skillful filmmaking make this a movie not to miss in theaters. Desmond Doss certainly deserves much admiration for his courage, and this film honors him well.