“While everybody is taking life I’m going to be saving it.”
Based on true events, this war drama/romance stars Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Social Network) as World War II U.S. Army Medic Desmond T. Doss who serviced our country and was the first Conscientious Objector (refuse to carry a weapon/kill people) to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Doss’ heroic acts saved approximately 75 men and likely more. This ordinary man did incredible things in harrowing circumstances. The violence does not glorify war, but Doss’ depicted experiences are harrowing and disturbing to watch. Filmmakers have a tough task chronicling these events objectively.
WW II came at a great cost and the audience’s only global perspective into this world war theater is an interior movie theater scene, which also serves to build Doss’ burgeoning relationship with a young nurse named Dorothy, played by Teresa Palmer (Bedtime Stories, I Am Number Four).
This film takes a stance on war that would hopefully echo in real life – war is justified, but hated and, most importantly, warriors are treated with love and compassion towards those who served in any capacity.
This film builds on emotional themes involving U.S. military veterans, enemy combatant treatment, patriotism, military law, U.S. rights, nationalism and faith/belief in God. Doss stands up for his values as the plot unpeels his background to the audience while depicting a historic battle.
Filmmakers reveal these layers using flashbacks and Biblical references (e.g. John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”). Garfield’s performance anchors the emotion well and the strong supporting cast compliments and sometimes equals his talent.
This film’s first half concentrates on Doss’ life in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with a troubled father Tom, played by Hugo Weaving (Matrix film series) and a loving mother Bertha, played by Rachel Griffiths (TV’s Brothers and Sisters).
Weaving’s strong performance personifies war’s after effects with raw emotion, especially during an interior sequence where the Doss family all sit down for dinner. This powerful sequence s unfortunately initially seen as an intentional comic scene at the beginning by less mature audience member at my showing. Doss’ brother Hal also factors into the story until the middle where filmmakers cleverly pass the baton to another key character packaged in a familiar rivalry.
Second half follows Doss’ incredible exploits during WW II, particularly the battle of Okinawa in 1945 at the aptly titled Hacksaw Ridge where U.S. soldiers climb up a tall rope ladder to elevate into the war zone against the Japanese. It’s important to note that Doss also served in Guam and Leyte (Philippines).
Vince Vaughn (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) impressively plays Sgt. Howell, Sam Worthington (Avatar) plays Howell’s commanding officer Captain Glover and Richard Roxburgh (Mission Impossible 2) as Colonel Stelzer who psychologically assess Doss. All these men make key decisions regarding Doss’ military career and are affected by the reciprocal actions and results, which are ultimately resolved in a key sequence.
Rising star Luke Bracey (November Man, Point Break) impresses as a fellow soldier who challenges Doss’ beliefs the most.
Doss chose no weapon to protect himself and instead used one to save a life after continuous ridicule, hardship and coward branding.
Oscar® winning director Mel Gibson (Passion of the Christ) has not missed a step since his last feature film Apocalypto 10 years ago. He incorporates the camera with unique points-of-view and top perspectives shots while his crew provides growling, sharp sound that is not easily forgotten.
Gibson’s son Milo also makes his feature film acting debut here as a soldier named Lucky Ford.
Robert Schenkkan (The Quiet American, TV movie All the Way) and Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner) handle the screenwriting duties well with a comprehensive, impassioned work that adds an appropriate coda featuring real footage and interviews with the real life subjects for better closure.
Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams (The Legend of Tarzan, Bee Movie) provides the memorable musical score, replacing the original choice and frequent collaborator with Gibson, James Horner, who unfortunately passed away recently.
Lawrence Bender (Good Will Hunting) was a key part among a sizable producer group who worked approximately 14 years to get this film to the big screen.
This 131-minute film gets a high recommendation (***1/2 out of four stars) and is rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler