Academy Award winning Director Mel Gibson returns to stand behind the camera again with the World War 2 true story called “Hacksaw Ridge”. A story by any measure that is extraordinary about Army Medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who grew up in Lynchburg VA, who enlisted in the war as an Consciences Objector and as Seven Day Adventist; meaning he did not carry a gun nor did he work or in this case fight on Saturdays.
After enduring a brutal training camp, Doss was shipped to the Pacific Theater to fight on the island of Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII. There he was credited with saving 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector to ever earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.
REVIEW: Overall, the film is entertaining, but far from being great mostly because of Gibson’s meandering direction. In the beginning the film felt like Bill Murrays “Stripes” with the second half feeling more like “Saving Private Ryan”. And with a running time of 2:20 minutes, the first 1:15 for me was rather ordinary in the same was some basic network TV mini-series movie of the week could be. Meaning? Well, I felt as if I was watching someone tell a story the exact same way some frustrated painter might try to paint a picture of the Mona Lisa using the numbered color codes etched into the canvass to use the right crayon color. Nothing magical ever happens.
Another issue that bothered me was as the movie proceeded early on with the introduction of the numerous supporting characters, who all collectively seemed to be both conventionally dull, with dialog that was almost at time amateurish to listen to.
Actor Andrew Garfield who dominates most of the film’s screen time does a decent job as Doss with his mannerisms mix of the loveable Mayberry town Sheriff Andy Taylor from the popular 1960’s situation comedy “The Andy Griffith Show" and TV evangelist Joel Osteen. With an overall solid effort on Garfield's part to capture the moral tone of the fiilm, there were a few occasions his acting seemed to be a little flat and less that authentic, even though we discover the real life Doss did in fact speak the same way towards the end of the film.
The movie does get much better when the fighting begins at the 1:15 mark as the depiction of the combat scenes of taking the Island was as brutal, gory and bloody as any film about war I have ever seen. If past is prolog (Passion of the Christ), Gibson has had no problem in letting the blood and carnage flow in truck loads to make a shocking unnerving point. But to his credit here it is to great and moving effect. War in deed is truly hell.
Finally, I do have to mention one little matter that caught my eye that lasted all about 10-20 seconds that I can honestly say I was not looking for. Gibson is persona non grata in some circles in Hollywood for an anti-Semitic tirade he had during a sobriety check point. He is also notoriously known for being a prankster. During a scene where Doss is walking with his military attorney for his court martial, the attorney ever so briefly cast an eerie likeness profile, including wind swept comb over hair hairstyle and forward pointed chin walking posture of Germany’s notorious Old Uncle Adolph. And while he did not have the square mustache he had a mustache nonetheless. Now I can’t say for sure it wasn't a coincidence or not or was it Gibson ever so very briefly thumbing his noses very subtly. If you see it, you tell me what you think. But I digress.
Overall, Hacksaw Ridge is just good enough for a trip to the mall theater to see. Mostly for the heroism and moral convictions of a brave American hero.