I am a soft touch when it comes to movies about self-sacrifice. Be it ‘The Magnificent Seven’ or ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ I am drawn to stories of those who put others before themselves.
However, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is amazing for two reasons. It is a true story about a person who in the middle of a war zone put others’ lives before his own and secondly the movie had to ‘tone down’ his true-life heroism, which was more fantastic than that eventually shown on the screen.
It is the story of a Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector in World War Two who single-handed saves seventy-five lives, many when his fellow troops flee from the scene of a brutal battle leaving many of the wounded to fend for themselves or worse be killed by patrolling Japanese troops.
Without a gun, (he refuses to touch weapons) and without adequate cover, he spends several hours finding wounded soldiers (including Japanese) and lowering them down a cliff face to safety and treatment.
Mel Gibson (remember him) makes a film similar in style to his last directorial effort, Apocalypto. There are three acts 1) The idyll life 2) Brutal change 3) The hero alone.
Act one is a strange vehicle because it doesn’t really delve deep into why Doss is so determined not to kill. He has a drunken abusive father, not particularly bright and although seen fixing the windows at the local church, there isn’t enough to suggest why his faith is so important to him. More time is spent seeing him romance is future bride.
It’s almost as if Gibson thinks we should automatically understand the motivation and his itching to get to the main story.
Doss the man really comes to life at Boot Camp. When it is known that he is a CO, the verbal and physical assaults begin as his fellow troops are encouraged to force him to leave. He refuses to take the hint, takes the beating … and faces military prison for refusal to touch a rifle.
His strength gets him though this stage but only on to Okinawa and particularly Heartbreak Ridge.
I can only say that the fight scenes are some of the most brutal, frenetic, and visceral ever put to screen. Explosions, limbs, entrails, blood and flames are everywhere. I am shocked that this is a 15 certificate.
Some may say that it is gratuitous or glorifies war (especially as some will see this as an anti-war film). For me it really made Doss predicament so much more real and his personal triumph against the odds so much more inspiring. However, nothing prepares you for the footage of those who knew Doss and then Doss himself.
It is not a perfect film. Many characters are stock WW2 film stereotypes and Vince Vaughn scene steals as the gruff Company Sgt. But Andrew Garfield is (really) great in this role and carries the film on his shoulders.
There is always a danger when making a movie about a real person that the drama moves into myth making.
In many ways, Desmond Doss and hacksaw ridge is a story on which myths are been made of.