What a better way to celebrate Veteran’s Day than review a new World War II movie?
Mel Gibson, who is never shy of controversy, returns to the director’s chair ten years after Apocalypto. Braveheart is easily one of the best epics ever made. While The Passion of the Christ split audiences and critics, he still created the most graphic depiction of Jesus’ final hours. It’s no surprise that his latest film Hacksaw Ridge will come across as graphic and powerful as his first two directorial feats. Gibson has made another miraculous achievement. It features themes familiar from his previous films—faith and courage.
Based on a true story, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, in the performance of his career) is a pacifist living in the hills of Virginia. He promises to never pick up a gun in his life. Traumatized from serving in World War I, his alcoholic father Tom (Hugo Weaving) forbids him to join the army. Desmond and his brother Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic) soon go behind his back to enlist after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
While drafted, his religious beliefs test his soldiers including Captain Jack Glover (Sam Worthington) and Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn). Since he is a Seventh-Day Adventist, he refuses to train on Saturdays because it’s his Sabbath. The only position he can be in the army is a medic. When his soldiers go into combat, he goes out in the middle of the battlefield to save them while thinking of his hometown sweetheart Dorothy (Teresa Palmer).
Gibson and writers Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan (The Pacific) mix the realism of the war with old-fashioned drama. Every shot breathes the 1940s; from the old cars to the fashion. Especially with scenes with Desmond and Dorothy, it becomes witty without being too sappy. Once we learn about Doss’ refusal to carry a gun, we know why.
There are plenty of laughs given at the army camp, notably from Vaughn when he is showing his inner R. Lee Ermey. Once the Battle of Okinawa starts, the audience is in for the most graphic war sequence since the opening scene on Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan. I had never felt anything to what’s being shown on screen. Bullets, bodies flying everywhere, grenades and bombs going off, and smoke rising.
Garfield’s Doss is so committed to do anything without having to carry a gun in the middle of a battlefield (“Lord, please help me get one more,” he prays aloud as he’s saving his troops). He—no spoilers—ended up saving 75 lives, which earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman. With his death in 2006, he left behind a great legacy behind. I would be surprised if Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t get any Oscar recognition. Seeing this movie with my father will be something I will never forget.