You will forget every past ugly incident involving Mel Gibson, every promise you made to protest his anti-semitism by boycotting his films as you sit stunned and shaken throughout the last half hour of Hacksaw Ridge The recreation of one of the horrendous battles for Okinawa is the closest thing in memory to an on-going visceral gut-punch that makes you feel the brutality, madness and devastating grief for countless soldiers fighting and dying for their country. Seeing this movie and then watching a news report of renewed fighting in Mosul points out the chasm between our sanitized sound-bite reports and the real experience of war. Perhaps if part of our requirement as citizens was the obligation to watch this film every week that we have soldiers in battle or in hot zones abroad, we might have the requisite respect for our veterans and a re-shuffling of our national priorities for who deserves the most acknowledgment and assistance first.
Ostensibly a bio-pic of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who signed up to be a medic in World War II, the movie begins as an old-fashioned forties film about a Virginia country boy whose violent home-life becomes a pivotal catalyst for his personal redemption. There is a brutal alcoholic father with a military backstory who terrorizes his loving wife and beats his sons, encouraging them to fight each other until the moment when one realizes how close he came to being a killer. We then fast-forward to Desmond as a young man who has become a Seventh-Day Adventist determined to do his patriotic duty by enlisting in the army while refusing to carry a weapon or work on the Sabbath. There is his innocent and passionate first love for a beautiful nurse who agrees to wait for his return. There is the requisite bullying by his fellow soldiers and by a sadistic sergeant (an excellent Vince Vaughan) and a court martial with unexpected drama until we reach the heart of the film - the experience of war. It will not surprise you to read that this is transformative for everyone but you will be moved beyond expectation by the various way in which this happens
Hacksaw Ridge is a film that commemorates heroism in defense of principles as well as valor in battle. It is a paean to the elevation of principles in personal conduct as well as military behavior, to the reality of human fallibility and its converse - the spiritual value of earned forgiveness. Andrew Garfield’s performance as Desmond Doss is so real that you will feel his heart race and his eyes tear before either happens. Mel Gibson has been an excellent actor and filmmaker before but he has achieved a new rung of significance and accomplishment with this remarkable film that will get under your skin and haunt you powerfully and deservedly.
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