A beautifully crafted movie. A story of faith, bravery, courage, and heroism. Hacksaw Ridge is a must-see tale of a man who refused to back down. Who refused to turn back.
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It is night. It is day. The dreaded Maeda Escarpment, Okinawa, aka “Hacksaw Ridge”, nicknamed for how several US battalions have tried, unsuccessfully, to take it from the Japanese Imperial Army, only to come away needing hacksaws for their wounded comrades. American soldiers have retreated yet again. Except one. US Army Private Desmond Thomas Doss (Andrew Garfield) of the 77th Infantry Division. Doss spends all day and night, after his battalion has fallen back down the ridge, saving as many wounded as he possibly can, lowering them down with a rope left on the ridge, saving at least 75 of his fellow soldiers, even attempting save some Japanese, enemy soldiers. Private Doss spent a total of 12 hours on the ridge, averaging saving one man every ten minutes. Private Doss fulfilled this duty as a medic to save his comrades, all without firing a single bullet, not using a weapon of any kind to protect himself from the occasional gunfire from enemy Japanese soldiers, crediting every bit of his heroism to God.
Private Doss, who passed away in 2006, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions. This made Private Doss the first conscientious objector, or more appropriately, a “conscientious cooperator”, as Private Doss himself said, to receive this award, the highest military honor of the United States of America. Private Doss hoped to serve his country, not by taking life, but by saving it. Like his fellow Americans, Doss was angry when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and wanted to do something. Due to a personal experience, which I will not disclose here, he refused to touch a weapon.
That is the subject of the movie Hacksaw Ridge, the first directorial work in ten years from actor and director Mel Gibson (Galipoli, The Man Without a Face). Gibson is well-known for being religiously devout, so it seems only fitting that he should direct a movie about the religiously devout Doss. (Gibson is a Roman Catholic, while Doss was Seventh-Day Adventist, a not very well-known Protestant sect of Christianity.) It was this subject that Gibson made a movie so apparently great it received a 10 minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. Rest assured, this movie is more than deserving of that praise, as the theater I attended broke into applause after the movie concluded. (I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that some of the more elderly attendees were veterans themselves.)
Hacksaw Ridge is an appropriately brutal movie. The horrors of war are on full display in this film. War does not hold back in its brutality, and neither does Mel Gibson in showcasing all horror and fear that war brings.
The first battle sequence of the whole movie has no music at all playing. It is instead silent, to allow the reality of war’s brutality to sink in. Music only starts when the American soldiers must retreat as the Japanese retake the ridge. The Americans flee, desperate to survive the tsunami of Japanese troops coming to bring hell upon them, the Americans think only of survival, desperate to live.
No battle score in this movie, courtesy of Rupert Gregson-Williams (Hotel Rwanda, The Ridiculous 6) sounds like some triumphant victory theme. Instead they sound appropriately desperate. The heroic victory scores all sound during Doss’ moments of heroism, when bringing his wounded comrades to the ridge, avoiding Japanese soldiers hunting him, and saving his men in battle from multiple grenades, nearly losing his legs. When Doss is wounded, he is dragged away from the battlefield and loses his small Bible, given to him by his wife, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). When the men of Company B learned of this, they risked their lives searching the whole battlefield until they found it, which they did.
(Though it is admittedly distracting when the mostly Australian cast slips their accents out and do not sound like an American regiment. As far as I can tell, Vince Vaughn (21 Jump Street [TV Show], Anchorman) is the only American actor in this movie otherwise filled with Britons and Australians.)
Hacksaw Ridge is very faithful to the tale of Desmond Thomas Doss. There’s not much to say about the movie without basically telling Doss’s whole life story. Some details were left out of the movie of course, for such is the consequence of making a historical drama biographical war movie. Enough was left though to bring me, and much of the audience, to tears. Twice.
One reported event that did not make it into the film was that a Japanese soldier had a clear shot at Private Doss as he ran around the ridge saving the lives of his wounded comrades. This Japanese soldier reported that he had a clear shot at Doss, but every time he went to fire at Doss, his gun jammed. Not once did the Japanese soldier get to aim his weapon at Doss without finding out it was jammed.
When Doss is finally brought down from the ridge, Captain Jack Glover (Sam Worthington) sees all the wounded Doss has saved in multiple tents, he asks, “Who did this?”. The latest wounded soldier, Milt “Hollywood” Zane (Luke Pegley) tells him it was Doss. All of those men were saved by “Doss the coward”, as they had derisively called him in boot camp for refusing to pick up a weapon. Hacksaw Ridge shows that Doss was as far away from cowardice as any man could be.
*Image Source: media.gq.com