First Hit: A very powerful and graphic film about a conscientious objector’s selflessness to save lives in a horrible battle.
This film is not easy to watch as many of the graphically violent scenes may make you cringe, close your eyes, or turn away from the screen as I did. Although the number of war torn bodies in this film was far greater than what I saw in Vietnam, the point wasn’t lost on me: “war is hell” as William T. Sherman in 1870 said and Director Mel Gibson wanted us to see. As he did in “Passion of the Christ” and “Apocalypto”, Gibson shows us man’s inhumanity to man.
Here he shows us Desmond Doss (Darcy Bryce and Andrew Garfield), whose belief in God, as a Seventh Day Adventist, won’t allow him to take another man’s life. We also see the lessons he learns from a difficult childhood. His father, Tom (Hugo Weaving), is an alcoholic which began with his own suffering from the loss of his childhood friends in WW I. The beatings his mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), brother Hal (Roman Guerriero and Nathaniel Buzolic) and he take, affected him deeply and as an audience member, were difficult to witness.
Because he has a sense of duty, despite the objections of his mother and father, he signs up to join the WWII effort as a medic Conscientious Objector in the US Army. Prior to his induction he meets Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) whom he charms with his wholesome, caring and kind nature. She sees the depth of his integrity and they agree to marry on his first leave.
When his platoon Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) announces to the rest of his platoon that Desmond won’t be carrying a gun to protect his peers, they make him a pariah. He's beaten and disowned by his fellow soldiers and they even try to Court Martial him out of the Army.
Gibson painstakingly develops the backstory so that when Desmond enters the battle for Hacksaw Ridge the audience is ready for him to become the hero he became. As the first of only three Conscientious Objectors to receive the Medal of Honor, Desmond amazes his fellow soldiers. Alone he saves 75 wounded men by saying to himself and to his God, “give me the strength to save just one more”.
The battle itself is one of the most graphic you’ll ever witness and it is important to know this going in. For me it triggered huge sadness because of the memory of piling up dead Viet Cong soldiers after an all-night firefight.
Although this film is long at 2 hours and 11 minutes, the elongated battle scenes are extremely well orchestrated giving the audience a sequence of stories all tying together.
Garfield was spectacular and amazing in this performance. His embodiment of Doss was deeply heartfelt. I would predict that he may receive an Oscar nomination, along with a real chance to win. I’d definitely give him a vote. Weaving was powerful as the father who was gutted by his involvement in WWI along with how this, and his alcoholism, affected his life. The last scene where he reaches out to help his son was deeply heartfelt. Vaughn was in the best non-comedic role I’ve ever seen him in. In my view, this role brought a new dimension to his acting abilities. Bryce and Guerrieo were wonderful as the young Doss brothers. Palmer was fantastic as Desmond’s one true love. Griffiths was very good as Desmond’s suffering and faithful mother. Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan wrote a fantastic screenplay. This screenplay is Oscar worthy and the dialogue is amazing in its range. It contained humor, military order and strictness, romanticism, and spiritual beliefs all wrapped into one film effectively. Gibson, regardless of how you may think of him as a celebrity and person, his direction of this film is truly amazing. Like Spielberg, he knows how to craft scenes of war in a way that can make an audience feel the experience. He deserves to be given consideration for an Oscar as well. If you see this film, make sure you watch the short clips during the credits of the real Desmond and others who knew him.
Overall: Although this film can be hard to watch at times, it clearly makes a strong point about the power of one man living his truth.