By Bradley Griffith
Yet another Oscar-nominated movie based upon a true story is now available for home rental. “Hacksaw Ridge” signaled the return of Mel Gibson to Hollywood, only this time as a director rather than an actor. It wasn’t the best movie of the year, but it wasn’t the worst either.
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was a simple country boy from Virginia when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor to bring about U.S. involvement in World War II. Despite the wishes of his father, both Desmond and his brother enlist in the Army. Both boys want to serve their country, but in different ways.
Rather than picking up a rifle and killing every enemy soldier in sight, Desmond is a pacifist, a conscientious objector. He refuses to even pick up a rifle, much less fire it at another human being. Desmond finds his calling in being an Army medic. While others are taking lives, he intends to save them.
Desmond expected to be confronted by the enemy on the battlefield. What he didn’t expect was the opposition he received from the Army and his fellow soldiers. His commanding officer at boot camp tries to have him drummed out of the military on a psychiatric discharge. His fellow soldiers think him a coward for refusing to use a gun, and treat him accordingly. Through it all, Desmond maintained his stance that he will not touch a gun, but is willing to sacrifice his life to save his fellow injured soldiers.
Desmond gets his chance to prove to everyone what kind of man he is when his unit is shipped out to Okinawa. Some of the fiercest battles of the war were fought on this island near Japan. The American troops needed to take a spot on the battlefield known as Hacksaw Ridge. Many times they had tried, and many times they had failed. It’s on this stage that Desmond Doss showed his true colors, saving the lives of 75 soldiers under intense enemy fire.
I’m torn in my opinions and feelings about “Hacksaw Ridge.” The movie depicts the amazing true story behind the movie that demands nothing less that your respect and admiration. Yet the actors and filmmakers many times failed miserably in bringing the story to the silver screen.
There’s no doubt about the heroism of the real Desmond Doss and his fellow soldiers. It’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like to fight the Japanese army on Okinawa. It’s impossible to fathom what it was like with no gun and no way to defend yourself as bullets take the lives of soldiers all around you with explosions constantly erupting in your face. What Desmond Doss did was nothing short of miraculous. The true story behind the movie is fascinating.
Then there’s the movie itself. Whether you like Andrew Garfield as an actor or not, his portrayal of Desmond Doss was not his best performance. I could hardly bear to listen to his almost condescending southern accent. The accent he used for most of the movie is not a reflection of the way most southerners speak. His poor accent colored the entire movie with a broad stroke of inauthenticity.
The portion of the movie at basic training did not have the appearance of truth. The whole process of the big bad drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn) seemed like a caricature of real basic training. Yet the battle scenes on Hacksaw Ridge were hectic, scary, brutal, and completely believable. Gibson showed the chaos of war and did so with no holds barred. Those scenes were incredible to watch.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is difficult to grade because my thoughts sharply diverge about the movie. There’s the courage to stand up for what you believe countered by the apparent craziness of entering war with no weapon. The very poor accent of Andrew Garfield versus the heroism of his character on the battlefield. The almost cartoonish basic training versus the gritty battle scenes. In the end, the true story of Desmond Doss makes it a movie worth watching.
Rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.