Desmond Doss Fought For Life At Hacksaw Ridge
The true stories of heroism during World War II never fail to captivate, as they show the ability of people to maintain their humanity in spite of the violence that surrounds them. The story told in Hacksaw Ridge involves a man who saved troops without firing a bullet. Andrew Garfield stars as Desmond Doss, a young man from Virginia who felt the need to serve in the war after his younger brother, Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic), enlisted. Desmond, though, wished to serve without compromising his beliefs of non-violence he held as a Seventh-Day Adventist. Their sons' decision to head to war does not sit well with their parents, Tom (Hugo Weaving) and Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), the former of whom has seen war for himself. Desmond also leaves behind his fiancee, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), a nurse he met and loved the moment he saw her.
Basic training, though, does not go well for Private Doss. His drill instructor, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), cannot even persuade Doss to even touch a gun. The captain at the base, Jack Glover (Sam Worthington), wants Doss discharged for psychiatric reasons. For failing to follow orders, Doss gets sent to the brig instead of being given a weekend pass, which delayed his intention to marry Dorothy. As he faces trial for his insubordination, they Army gets a reminder that they could be violating his rights over not carrying a weapon. They drop the charges, and allow Doss to get the medic training he was promised when he enlisted. That training is put to its greatest test in the war's final months, especially on Okinawa. He does not retreat from a battle against Japanese troops willing to kill or die to hold the ridge as he tries saving men pinned to their positions by enemy fire.
Hacksaw Ridge marks Mel Gibson's first film since Apocalypto ten years earlier. The film is an engrossing and intense look at a man who stood on principle while doing his part in the war effort. Hacksaw Ridge also gets into a little bit of Desmond's back story of a man who loved adventure and believed in service. Yet, he also made the decison to not touch a gun as the result of one conflict. Gibson also doesn't shy away from graphic details as he shows the finality of this fight for both Americans and Japanese alike. Gibson does offer a little bit of humor in those scenes as Desmond connects with onetime detractor Smitty Riker (Luke Bracey), and Desmond's use of a gun as he takes a still-firing soldier to safety. I wish the screenplay from Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan had touched a little more on Desmond's family, especially Dorothy, as the scenes with Dorothy and Desmond are among the highlights of the film.
Garfield delivers well as the private who seldom strays from his beliefs. Desmond always has his Bible and a picture of Dorothy to inspire him. He always offers a prayer to his fellow soldiers as they risk their lives in a different way than he does. In turn, he shows them what kind of a soldier he can be, with training and discipline as his weapons of choice. Though she gets little screen time, I also liked Palmer as the supportive and loving Dorothy, who believes in Desmond and gives him reason to be the best medic he can be. Weaving also makes the best of his short screen time as the embittered Tom, who knows - and still lives - with the horrors of war. Vaughn, Worthington, and Bracey also make solid contributions in support. The Doss brothers and Glover appear in archive footage just before the credits roll.
World War II veterans will soon be unable to tell their stories firsthand. Doss himself passed away in 2006, but his tale of heroism deserves to be told and remembered. Gibson and others make sure Hacksaw Ridge respects the efforts of Doss and the sacrifices all of them made during the war years. The movie shows that a man can do more in battle besides taking lives. Obviously, an Army will not succeed if all of them follow the lead of Desmond Doss. In one battle, Doss made his name as he stayed in a very dangerous place to get as many as he could to safety and, in many cases, proper care. Hacksaw Ridge avoids the necessary cynicism of Flags Of Our Fathers to show a man who had to fight for his beliefs as he fought to make sure as many as he could one day make their way home.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Hacksaw Ridge 3.5 stars. One man's extraordinary effort to help his unit prevail.