A Rare Gift
Itís rare these days to find a film covering so many angles of its story that itís breathtaking. My first look at an unfinished screening of Hacksaw Ridge already had me convinced this movie would be one of the yearís best movies. Some may question that, especially when seeing the trailers about yet another WWII film -- and one made by Mel Gibson. But having seen the film three times, I found this motion picture to be like pulling on the paper of a present and finding something heartfelt with each layer.
First off, we learn about Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He shares his home with a brother (Nathaniel Buzolic), mother (Rachel Griffiths) and an angry drunken father (Hugo Weaving). His mother tries to have the boys follow in their Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs, which means church on Saturday.
Desmond has many days where heís mistreated by his dad. As news of WWII engulfs the country, Desmond tells his father heís going to enlist to fight. His dad -- who has mental wounds from his own fight in WWI -- blasts Desmond with anger and spite about his decision. When his dad holds a gun on Desmondís mother, he grabs the gun from his dad. Could that have had something to do with him becoming a conscientious objector in the 307th Regiment, 77th Infantry Division?
Desmond signs up as a medic, but before he heads off to boot camp he meets nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), and within a day or two announces he is going to marry her. They share a very sweet and deep love for each other. When Desmond arrives at boot camp, itís nothing like he expected. After he refuses to hold a rifle or kill anyone, his comrades beat him up, while some like Smitty (Luke Bracey) just stand by, and Sergeant Howell, his drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn) wants him out of the service. Desmond barely squeaks by, thanks to his constitutional right to serve as a medic and not having to carry or use a gun. He does spend some days in jail, and is kept coolheaded by reading the small Bible Dorothy gave him.
At this point screenwriters Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight already have the audience infatuated with this story so expertly served and with the fine cast. Viewers feel warm and cozy with the beautiful love story. Then itís war time, and Mel Gibsonís mind-blowing transition to the top of Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa is immediately almost hard to believe; but this is a true story. What Desmond does on top of that hill among attack after attack by the Japanese is both chilling and remarkable. This all unfolds through the amazing cinematography of Simon Duggan and the heart-thumping musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Simon Duggan and the heart-thumping musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.
Gibson creates scenes that make the audience feel as if they are on that ridge. We know he has talents that earned him major awards, but this film tops those. You can actually feel his compassion for Desmond, and Gibson honors him for an unbelievable sacrifice by single-handedly and dodging bullet after bullet, then carrying 75 wounded men over his shoulder to lower them down the ridge for triage. Desmond Doss was the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Listening to Mel Gibson talk about Hacksaw Ridge was energizing. He really sensed the deep goodness in this man of faith and determination. Gibson wraps the movie in layers of courage, strong faith, bravery, patriotism, heroism and valor. Itís a gift to everyone who sees it. I hope Gibson, the film, cast members (especially Andrew Garfield), and filmmakers receive praise and awards for a film that ranks among the best in decades. I feel privileged to have seen this splendid tribute to a true American hero.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated ďRĒ for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.