I’m personally at the point when I hear there is a new World War II movie coming out, I audibly groan. The powers that be in Hollywood really don’t want us to forget that the Nazis were bad guys during the 40s and every WWII movie has to prove it…as if we were going to forget somehow. We are used to getting the same story over and over, it begs the question, have we gotten creatively bankrupt on the topic? Well, who better to change the narrative of a WWII flick than…Mel Gibson?
Hacksaw Ridge is a biographical film about US Army medic Desmond T. Doss, who received the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of 75 of his comrades during the Battle of Okinawa. A story that was in developmental hell for a decade and a half as it bounced around from producer to producer was finally given the official green light in 2014 as Mel Gibson and Andrew Garfield joined the project. Many people are going to have their opinions on Mel but the story here is about one of the bravest men to ever serve the United States of America as he saved the lives of many men and never pick up a single gun.
The film begins as a biography on the life of Doss. He and his brother were raised by their parents in a small town in Virginia. His father played by Hugo Weaving, fought in the First World War and suffers from alcoholism and PTSD. Due to this, his father strongly objects to his sons joining the war. Shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, a record number of enlistees decided to join the fight against the Axis leaders. Doss, on the other hand, wanted to save lives and not take lives due to his beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. This leads to a massive conflict of morals and rules between Doss and the United States Army. Doss is viewed as a coward for refusing to bear arms and many in the military want him gone to rid them of the legal nightmare he will become. However, thanks to the US constitution, Doss is allowed to serve his country without a weapon and he enters the Warzone of Okinawa.
Many involved with the film will describe it somewhere between a faith-based film and an anti-war film. The first half is a story of a man who struggles to keep his beliefs in a world where his pacifist views directly conflict with the situation at hand. Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington play Sergeant and Captain of the army platoon. They send Doss through hell to get him to quit on his own accord but despite the hell they put him through, Doss stays true to himself which earns the respect of his unit. Refusing to give up his faith sets the stage for the direction Hacksaw moves to in the second half.
Now it wouldn’t be responsible not to remind you that this is a Mel Gibson directed film, so if you have watched The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, then you already know that Mel is no stranger to violence. So if you had a tough time watching Negan bash Glenn’s head in with a baseball bat (spoiler alert), then this probably isn’t the film for you. World War II stands as the bloodiest war in history and Gibson displays it perfectly with arguably the most intense war sequence in modern film history. The US is trying to gain territory in Japan but rabid Japanese forces present a massive problem for them. For a film that is presented as a cross between Leave it to Beaver and Full Metal Jacket, the second half of the film is absolutely brutal. The anti-war part of the movie goes into brutal gory detail that displays the stakes of what this war represented. With thousands of men being slaughtered and blown to bits in front of his very eyes, Doss remained strong as he single handily saved 75 men from certain death by praying for the strength to save just one more.
Desmond T. Doss was the embodiment of a true American hero, and his story is one that deserves to be celebrated by generations of Americans. The movie concludes with the real Doss himself giving his first-hand account of what happened during the war shortly before his passing in 2006. His perspective only makes you appreciate the efforts that went into this story and his life even more. While the violence and imagery may be too much for some viewers, Mel Gibson nailed the balance between peace and war. You may have issues with Mel as a person but his talents as a filmmaker are beyond question and if this film doesn’t see recognition in award season, it won’t be because of the film’s quality.
The ensemble cast includes terrific performances from Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, and Andrew Garfield who portrayal of Doss and the courage he displays will bring tears to your eyes. Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most powerful films to be released this year and for my money one of the best films in 2016.