Although based on a true story, I found it hard to swallow that they could make a war movie centered around a hero that refuses to fight. Was it going to be some hippies’ wet dream type of story? Would it be a perverted tale of history, complete with love a triangle, like “Pearl Harbor”? Was it going to be loaded with political propaganda and rhetoric? So, I had to see for myself.
Opening, it shows some of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) growing up with his brother. Typical for the time. Alcoholic WWI veteran father, battered housewife, growing up in poverty, and two young boys who love fighting. During one of their fights, Desmond almost kills his brother. That moment really shook him up. Later in the film, we see a scene where a more grown up Desmond awakens to his father beating his mother. Desmond stops the father, and shoves a gun in his face. He was pounds of trigger pull away from sending his father to his judgment. In that moment, he reflected on his faith, and made a strict vow to never harm a human being again.
Fast forward to the U.S. involvement in WWII. After Desmond’s brother Hal Doss (Nathaniel Buzolic) enlists in the army, Desmond struggles with wanting to help with the war effort, as well as his father’s overwhelming disapproval. Although his father Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) comes off as such a bad person, you can’t help but sympathize with him, and his own struggle. However, his religious beliefs handicap him. In a run in with a nurse, who would become the object of his affection, he takes an interest in becoming a medic. He realizes he can do the opposite of hurting people, by saving them in war.
The film would later follow his struggle through boot camp, being a conscientious objector. Although a great and powerful story in itself, it still pales in comparison to what was to come. After an eventual attempted court martial for refusing to comply with Army regs and training, due to his refusal to handle weapons, we have Desmond’s Dad find piece and redemption by saving his son from his court martial by calling in a favor from a high ranking soldier that Tom himself had served with and fought beside.
At this point, we get to the meat and potatoes of the story. Desmond’s upbringing and victory of becoming an Army Medic as a conscientious objector would have made a fantastic movie alone. But, that’s not what makes greatness. Imagine watching a movie about a young black woman, set in the Jim Crow days, who struggles to become a lawyer. And after her hurdles, earns her law degree, and goes on to do nothing significant. In fact, she turns out to be a mediocre lawyer, and is eventually arrested for embezzling NAACP funds, and just turns out to be a bad person. You’d feel pretty bad. You’d be yelling at the screen, “WHY!!!! So it was all for nothing. Damn it”. Her struggles early on become void, invalid, etc… In Hacksaw Ridge, do not expect that. They go on to validate Desmond’s struggle. Big Time.
Fast forward to a very vicious battle, against an unrelenting enemy who does not fear death, the Battle of Okinawa. After a day of tragic battling, the US soldiers are forced to temporarily retreat. Desmond, however, was still on the battlefield. He spent the whole night, treating, and dragging one soldier at a time to safety. And by dragging to safety, I mean patching wounds, sneaking past enemy patrols, keeping the injured soldiers quiet, and lowering them down a cliff with rope to the safety of their temp base of operations.
Desmond Saved over 75 lives, just to have to go back into battle the next day
The film ends with the eventual victory over the Japanese, but leaves you with your jaw hanging open. When you realize, you just watched a WWII action drama, where the hero doesn’t even punch a person, let alone shoot anyone. Desmond would go on to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the first to earn this award having never used a weapon.
The acting was great. Andrew Garfield delivers a great performance, making you forgive him for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The battles were well directed (Mel Gibson) and deliver the most unromantic picture of war. The screams, wounds, and demise of the multiple brave troops is anything but haunting.
A great film, that sucks you in, but comforting being based on a true story, so you know he lives. But knowing it’s a true story, makes it even more powerful. Sometimes the real deal, is the most unbelievable and amazing thing ever.