Thursday, November 3, 2016

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Tells A True Story of Sacrifice in a Masterful Way

Review of "Hacksaw Ridge."
Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge (Cross Creek Pictures)
⬛ MOVIE REVIEW
Very few movies that focus on one’s faith are made well or do well in the theater. One reason might be because it’s truly difficult for an actor to portray the faith of another. Faith is a personal thing and often times a character will come off too preachy or the filmmaker, not wanting to offend an audience, will barely show any evidence that the character believes in God outside of attending a church service. Hacksaw Ridge is not that kind of movie.

The story of Desmond Doss, an army medic who refused to carry a weapon into the battle of World War II, is an incredible tale of sacrifice and the serving of others. Director Mel Gibson describes Doss as a real “superhero,” not one who wears tights and I can’t think of a better person to portray him than Andrew Garfield.

Desmond Doss grew up in a Seventh Day Adventist family. His mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) sang in the church choir. His father Tom (Hugo Weaving) fought in World War I and lost a lot friends there. He became an alcoholic and would beat his wife and kids from time to time. They were not a rich family and Desmond and his brother were a scrappy pair. Not exactly a perfect Christian family. When a consequence happens after a seemingly normal event, Desmond finds himself wrestling with faith at a very young age.

Years later, Desmond’s brother, Harold (Nathaniel Buzolic) without the approval of his father, signs up for war while Desmond helps out at his family’s church. When a man is hurt outside the church, Desmond rushes the man to town’s hospital where he sees injured military men and meets the love of his life, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) a nurse who appears to be as innocent as he is. Then, while seeing her and the other medical professionals care of the injured soldiers, he realizes that he has a desire to work in the medical field as well. However, as the war goes on, Desmond is more drawn to wanting to serve in the war. His father questions who he can go to battle having the convictions that he has and Desmond replies that he can go as a medic and take care of the injured soldiers. He wouldn’t have to fight but he could help them win the war.


Before Desmond goes to basic training, Dorothy agrees to marry him when he comes back on leave. At his basic training, we get to meet his fellow soldiers as he does including Smitty (Luke Bracey) who judges Desmond even gets to his bunk, Andy Walker (Goran D. Kleut) who goes by the nickname of “Ghoul,” Milt “Hollywood” Zane (Luke Pegler) who likes to work out in the nude much to the chagrin of the others and Milo Gibson (played by Mel Gibson’s son, Milo, who looks just like him). Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Vince Vaughn playing the role of Sergeant Howell. His background in comedy helps a lot to set up the scene. He’s hilarious and Desmond can’t stop snickering at the comments he makes to the boys. But he's tough. He's going to turn these boys into men.

Hacksaw Ridge is basically two movies in one. The above is the first half that plays out looking very Norman Rockwellish. With some exceptions, most of the scenes are “cute” and present an idolized image of American life. There is little if any swearing in this half. There is actually quite a bit of comedy too. Desmond tries to steal a kiss from Dorothy and gets slapped. In fact, this is one of the few love stories on screen today where the couple don’t make love until their wedding night.

Then the second half of the film begins literally with a bang and Hacksaw Ridge becomes a terribly violent war movie and I suspect, very accurate. Gibson is not afraid to show violence in his films and doesn’t hold back here at all. Characters who we’ve met are blown away instantly and we saw war for all of its ugliness. Understandably, Desmond is horrified by what he sees and can’t seem to understand why God called him to serve in the war. To make a long story short, he saves 75 men during what is known as the bloodiest battle of World War II without every using a weapon. His prayers go from “Why am I here?” to “Just one more. Just one more.” It’s not easy to watch and though the story ends on a high note, you can’t help but feel drained after watching it but also inspired to do more with your life than just the same old, same old.

Though Doss received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman in 1945 for his service, he chose to live a quiet, humble life after the war. There was talks of bringing his story to the screen earlier on, but he didn’t want the notoriety. The film’s producer, Bill Mechanic, says “Desmond never wanted to sell his life rights, he didn’t want to popularize himself, feeling that that would be a contradiction to who he was. It wasn’t until late in his life that people convinced him that it was time to tell the story so that it would live on.”

Doss passed away at the age of 87 in March 2006.