Saturday, August 12, 2017

Movie Reviews: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge
directed by Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson may hold ugly opinions or beliefs that you don't like. He may occasionally make even uglier statements when he is drunk or upset. But since I don't know the man personally that doesn't impact my enjoyment of his film work. Maybe I would feel differently if I was the real life target of one of his volcanic bigoted tirades. But I haven't been. Sometimes people who have great skills aren't necessarily very nice people. Sometimes very nice people are utterly incompetent artists. It's just the way it is. This is a roundabout way of saying that I think this film serves as Gibson's re-entry into Hollywood royalty. It has A- list stars, excellent cinematography and impressive writing/storytelling. It helps that this is based on a true story, something of a tearjerker. Gibson pulls out all the stops to wring every bit of emotion out of the viewer. I think it works. He also brings his penchant for blood and martyrdom to the forefront but as this is a war movie, that makes sense. This is not a war movie like the old 50s and 60s war movies where someone would get hit and fall down. 

Maybe in the late 60s or 70s we'd see a splash of red. Gibson made other choices for this movie. This is a post-Saving Private Ryan war movie. Gibson does his best, and his best is pretty damn good, to bring across the horror, carnage and randomness of war.  There is the danger of become too inured to such graphic violence but of course no matter how horrible these images are they are nothing compared to the reality of war. I don't think that you can watch this film and come away thinking that war is anything less than an obscenity to be avoided at almost any cost.

The story's protagonist is a Virginia man named Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield). As many American men did after the Pearl Harbor attack, Desmond decided to join the Army to serve his country. There's only one little issue. Both for personal ethical reasons and more obvious religious ones( he's a very devout Seventh Day Adventist) Desmond refuses to take up arms against anyone, even to save his own life or the lives of his fellow soldiers. He just wants to be a medic and save lives. As you might imagine this stance makes him less than popular with his fellow recruits or just as importantly his commanding officers and NCO's. They don't want to find themselves in a position where they are wounded, low on ammo, and under attack by the enemy, but their only support is a man who refuses to even pick up a rifle. To his unit's way of thinking having someone like Desmond in their group is a dire threat to their safety and honor. They think Desmond is a coward. They bully him in ways that are legal and condoned/ordered by his sergeant (Vince Vaughn) and Captain (Sam Worthington). They also go WAY over the line trying to force Desmond to quit, especially a fellow soldier and bully (Luke Bracey)

Desmond gets support from his nurse fiancee Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) and his WW1 veteran father (Hugo Weaving) with whom he has at best a complicated relationship. But his primary moral focal points are his mother (Rachel Griffiths) and his own deep abiding faith. The roles of faith and conscience are essential to this film. Desmond will not kill. He insists on keeping the sabbath. And he's a vegetarian. And he will not budge on those beliefs no matter how he is tempted or how ridiculous those behaviors appear in the grind of battle. And Desmond is certainly put to the test when he's thrust into the Battle of Okinawa. 

Gibson has a suffering Christ fixation but in this case it makes sense. Desmond is indeed willing to suffer and bleed for his fellow men, even those who are not American. One shot in the movie makes it look as if he is descending from heaven. This was a powerful film that may make you think about how far you are willing to go to stay true to your moral or religious beliefs. The film ending also had some conversation with the now deceased real life Desmond Doss, who became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Quite an achievement for someone who refused to commit violence against anyone.
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