Bloodied tale of the pacifist as war hero

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GRACE UNDER FIRE: Andrew Garfield is very good as true-life pacifist war hero Desmond Doss

Film: Hacksaw Ridge

Director: Mel Gibson

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn.

Plot: Based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh Day Adventist who enlists for the US Army in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. He is determined to serve his country – but has taken a vow never to handle a weapon. Ostracised and bullied by his colleagues, he is eventually allowed to go to war as an unarmed medic. In the battle for the Japanese island of Okinawa, Doss performs extraordinary acts of courage to rescue wounded men under heavy enemy fire.

What I thought of it: Andrew Garfield gives a very good performance as Doss, a man who describes himself as a “conscientious co-operator.” All the Best Actor Oscar talk is of Ryan Gosling (La La Land) and Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea), but I wonder if Garfield could be the dark horse in this category for this performance.

This is the first film that Gibson has directed in ten years; since Apocalypto (2006) and The Passion of The Christ (2004). Hacksaw Ridge completes a trilogy of films that explore religious belief in extreme circumstances.

ROMANTIC INTERLUDE: Teresa Palmer is good as Doss's future wife Dorothy Schutte.
ROMANTIC INTERLUDE: Teresa Palmer is good as Doss’s future wife Dorothy Schutte.

After the controversial nature of the first two of those films, Gibson’s direction in the first half feels very conventional. Doss’s tribulations in basic training, led by Vaughn’s tough-guy platoon sergeant, are offset by subplots that tell us something about Doss’s  relationships with his future wife (Palmer), and his parents (Griffiths as his long-suffering mother Bertha, and Weaving as his war-damaged father Tom.)

The second half of the film consists entirely of the bloody efforts by the American forces to clear the Japanese from the honeycombs of caves and tunnels on the ridge that gives the film its title.

HELL ON EARTH: US Marines battle to take another ridge on Okinawa
HELL ON EARTH: US Marines battle to take another ridge on Okinawa

The battle scenes spatter the screen with blood and guts, reminiscent of the opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Men (on both sides) are reduced to brutal basic instincts in the fight to survive and overcome the enemy.

Doss plunges into the middle of this carnage and horror to carry out his incredible rescue mission.

Gibson’s direction only occasionally veers toward the sentimental, and his religiosity is kept in check (bar one scene which portrays Doss as a Christ-like figure.)

The film does not attempt to explore the Japanese side of the conflict in the way that Clint Eastwood did in his 2006 twinned movies Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima.

The end credits are preceded with brief monologues by the real Doss. This is becoming a fashion in ‘true-life’ films. I’m not sure it’s a good idea; it tends to make you want to hear more from the actual participants, and can detract from the film you’ve just watched.

Retired Bloke Rating: **** A good way to spend an afternoon.

 

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