Sunday, April 30, 2017

HACKSAW RIDGE (2016): Redemption

Hacksaw Ridge is the first film Mel Gibson has directed in ten years.   It also appears to be the first film acceptable to the movie establishment under his direction since Braveheart appeared in 1995.  That’s probably because if the film elite can get past Gibson’s religious peculiarities, they realize this is a fairly conventional war movie.  It’s surprisingly tame for a Mel Gibson film.  Gibson only takes on the director role in this instance – unlike The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, films Gibson directed and produced.  No current Hollywood producer wanted to handle those two other films.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the only conscientious objector in U.S. military history to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.  If we are to believe the film, he undoubtedly deserved the medal as Desmond rescued over 75 American soldiers on the island of Okinawa.  He did this in spite of the criticism he received, and in spite of the fact he faced a court-martial hearing.

Desmond came from a family of Seventh-Day Adventists.  Desmond’s own father (Hugo Weaving) served in World War I – such an experience possibly being the reason for why his father drank so heavily.  Yet despite his father’s opposition, Desmond makes the strange choice of enlisting during World War II as a medic.  Engaged to be married to Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), from any outsider’s perspective Desmond’s choice to join the military seems only like a throwing away of his life.

Desmond does not receive a warm welcome from either his sergeant (Vince Vaughn) or captain of the unit (Sam Worthington).  The other soldiers in his unit make life hell for him as well.  But Desmond does not break.  Even facing a court-martial hearing for refusing to pick up a gun during a drill does not prevent him from living by his principles.  Coincidentally, it is his father that saves Desmond from a court-martial by asking his old friend from World War I, now a general, to intervene on Desmond’s behalf.

It is at Okinawa where Desmond’s principles face their greatest test.  On Okinawa is a large cliff know as Hacksaw Ridge.  The Japanese control Hacksaw Ridge, having dug a series of tunnels beneath the summit to hide.  Yet the American soldiers are able to scale the wall and take the attack to the enemy.  However, the casualty rate in doing so appears high.  Mysteriously, however, many of the wounded soldiers are lowered down through the series of ropes for safety.  Only well into the battle is the mystery resolved.  It is Desmond who continues to rescue man after man.  Wounded himself, the other soldiers lower Desmond down in the same manner so he can receive medical treatment.

The casting for the supporting actors is effective.  Garfield as the lead plays his role well, but he doesn’t get much opportunity to demonstrate any great range regarding his acting ability.

Desmond is the Christ figure in the film – not so very different from other war films.  We see no flaws in his character.  And though this film is violent, this is certainly no more violent than other war films we have seen over the past thirty years.  The merits of this film come about due to such a remarkable story based upon real events.  And, unlike so many other war films trying to deliver a message, Gibson tells this story in a fairly straightforward (though not particularly controversial) manner.   Hacksaw Ridge is 139 minutes long – just about the right amount of time to cover the subject.

April 30, 2017

© Robert S. Miller 2017