The true story of Desmond Doss, a soldier who helped to save wounded at the Battle of Okinawa without ever firing a shot at the enemy.
“Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the Earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall. But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will not be faint.”
“Hacksaw Ridge” begins with the voiceover above as Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, “Silence”) is laid out on a stretcher, wounded, the chaos of the Battle of Okinawa raging around him. In my opinion, this opening voiceover and the themes it sets up feels almost out of place in today’s modern world, but I appreciate that immensely. It’s rare in modern war films that we spend time with characters as they pray- that feels akin to something we’d see in a 1950s war film. But this film shows scenes we would never see in a 1950s war movie- scenes that debate the morality of war, or depicts soldiers as they stand their moral ground when it means defying their superior officers. This film feels like an anomaly to me; much like Private Desmond Doss himself.
Doss was a man that didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the soldiers in his company; his morals made him the odd man out. No one thought Doss would amount to anything more than a corpse on a battlefield. However, when it came down to the wire, Doss was exactly what they needed. In a way, that’s sort of how I feel about this film in relationship to other war movies: due to its moral stance, and the slower pacing in the first act; it doesn’t really fit alongside other war movies like “Saving Private Ryan”, “Black Hawk Down”, or “American Sniper”. However, I would argue that its morals also shine a light on the heroes of war we often don’t think about, the ones who show courage in ways beyond just fighting.
Honestly, the slower pacing in the first half of this film, as well as some of the more ridiculous moments in the action (we’ll touch on those below), should’ve dropped my rating down to a 3.5/5, but due to the unique morals and the frequent conversations about God’s will as well as the interview footage at the end of this film help to create a uniquely emotional experience. I don’t think this film is as good as “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Thin Red Line”, but I do think that the perspective that this film takes does make it an important watch, especially for Christians who have an interest in finding quality films.
“Help me get one more.”
After the US is attacked at Pearl Harbor and declares war, Desmond Doss (Garfield) decides to sign up for the army even though he has sworn to never carry a gun. Doss faces intense scrutiny from everyone, including his father Tom (Hugo Weaving, “The Matrix”) a Great War veteran, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer, “Lights Out”) his fiancé, and even his commanding officers Sgt Howell (Vince Vaughn, “Brawl in Cell Block 99”) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington, “Avatar”). Despite the opposition, Doss holds true to his beliefs and is allowed to participate in the Battle of Okinawa. His decision to not carry a weapon might cost him his life, but he has faith that he’s doing the right thing.
Really, the themes and the overall story are what stand out most to me about this movie, and I’ve already touched on the themes quite a bit above. This story is one that is as unique as it is compelling and triumphant; if this story weren’t based on fact, I would’ve thought it to be a highly sensationalized story, because honestly many of the events that occur seem unbelievable. This is the kind of story that begs to be turned into a film, and I honestly think the way that this film conveys the story is really efficient.
There are some moments in the battles that go beyond believability and almost into the realm of ridiculousness. For example, there’s one scene where a US soldier is under heavy fire, so he picks up the body of a fallen comrade and holds it as a shield with one hand as he charges towards the enemy firing his machine gun with his free hand. That moment is ridiculous; it’s almost laughable. There’s another moment when Doss drags Sgt Howell behind him on a jacket while Howell shoots at the Japanese soldiers following them; that scene too had me rolling my eyes. Honestly, those moments were probably my biggest issues with the film overall; the rest of the battle sequences were astoundingly executed.
Director Mel Gibson (“The Passion of the Christ”, “Braveheart”) received a Best Director nod for this film, and in my opinion that is due to the unrestrained craziness of the battle sequences. While the first half of this movie does take its time developing characters and the moral ground on which they stand, the second half of this film is one explosive sequence after another until the end of the film. It’s dramatic and exciting, and it makes the time wading through the slower parts in the beginning all worth it.
While I don’t think this film will be remembered like “Saving Private Ryan” (in my opinion, the pinnacle of war movies), it is a story that should be seen. I think everyone in this film did an admirable job (I suppose I should mention that Andrew Garfield was nominated for Best Actor in this role too- I actually thought his performance in “Silence” was far more memorable, and that performance went relatively unacknowledged), and I’m honestly really happy that Mel Gibson is directing again. I know he’s had some personal problems in the past, but the guy knows how to direct a film.
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