ReelBob: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’
By Bob Bloom
In “Hacksaw Ridge,” director Mel Gibson again blends church and carnage as he tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a World War II conscientious objector who enlisted to serve, yet refused to carry a weapon.
Instead Doss, skillfully played by Andrew Garfield, volunteered to be a medic — his mission being to save men rather than kill them.
Like Gibson’s “Braveheart” and “The Passion of the Christ,” “Hacksaw Ridge” is a mixture of faith and ferocity.
The movie features some of the most violent and brutal war sequences since Steve Spielberg recreated the D-Day landing in “Saving Private Ryan.”
Gibson shows the savagery of war, as men are tossed — like rag dolls — through the air by explosions, limbs are blown off, insides spew onto the rocky terrain and flamethrowers incinerate flesh.
From the outset in his barracks, Gibson presents Doss as a Christ-like figure. Doss is mocked, humiliated, reviled, beaten and physically and mentally abused for his beliefs.
Yet, Doss remains steadfast and puts his trust in God.
The movie covers Doss’ childhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains region of Virginia. His life is not idyllic. Doss must cope with his alcoholic father — a World War I veteran still scarred by that conflict — who continues to mourn the deaths of friends in the trenches of Europe.
Doss finds his calling when he saves the life of an accident victim.
Thus, when the United States enters World War II, he enlists. But his religious convictions, as a Seventh-Day Adventist, will not allow him to touch a rifle.
Much to the chagrin of the other recruits in his barracks, as well as his drill-instructor, Sgt. Palmer — a tough, barking Vince Vaughn — Doss will not yield to threats or intimidation and stands by his values.
Even when threatened with court-martial and prison, he will not relent.
He is rescued by his father, a vulnerable portrayal by Hugo Weaving, who approaches his former captain — now a brigadier general — to intercede on his son’s behalf.
With the rest of his men, Doss is sent to Okinawa in 1945, where some of the bloodiest battles of the war were fought. Nor does Gibson flinch from showing the barbarity of the fighting.
Here, Doss, who did not carry a weapon, redeems himself in the eyes of his comrades by evacuating 75 wounded soldiers and getting them to safety.
Garfield’s performance is imbued with a quiet strength. He does not flout his religious principles. He states them simply, sometimes haltingly, without trying to foist them on others.
An individual such as Doss — who was the first conscientious objector to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor — fits snugly into Gibson’s philosophical wheelhouse. The director admires men who combine holiness and heroism, such as “Braveheart’s” William Wallace and Lt. Col. Hal Moore in “We Were Soldiers.”
“Hacksaw Ridge” contains a few clichés — the introduction of Doss’ fellow soldiers in the barracks plays like a scene from a 1940s World War II movie — and the romance with his future wife, Dorothy (a sweet Teresa Palmer), is sketchy.
Ultimately, the movie resonates with you, because, despite all its brutality, it glorifies goodness. As Doss explains at his court-martial, war brings out the worst in humanity, so his being a soldier who wants to save lives instead of taking them, shines a bit of much-needed light on such an awful conflict.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is a profile of a courageous individual who put his trust in God, showed grace under fire and never wavered from his core convictions.
Its lack of cynicism is refreshing. The film is a moving and memorable portrait of one man’s grace under fire.
Once you see it, the film will have a profound impact on you.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
3½ stars out of 4
(R), intense and prolonged graphic and bloody war violence, disturbing images.