Entertainment

Review: Mel Gibson’s ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Is About Heroism, Not Pacifism

image: YouTube screengrab/Lionsgate Movies

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The bravery of pacifism is a favorite Hollywood motif, but “Hacksaw Ridge,” the story of a conscientious objector who nevertheless earned the Medal of Honor for his heroism as a medic, avoids what would be an easy moralizing tone.

While flashier movies like the newest superhero movie “Doctor Strange” and the spin-off of the Harry Potter franchise “Fantastic Beasts” captured a larger share of the box office earnings, “Hacksaw Ridge” deserves some accolade for telling a (mostly) accurate story of Army Pfc. Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield. (RELATED: One Of The Greatest Stories Of World War II Is Coming To The Movies [VIDEO])

Despite diverting a bit here and there, the most astonishing and miraculous events in the film are true. On May 5, 1945, three months, nearly to the day, before U.S. planes nuked Hiroshima,
Doss did rescue dozens of his fellow soldiers, alone and unarmed, during one of the many assaults on Hacksaw Ridge.

Until World War II intrudes in young Doss’s life, his experiences with violence and blind rage came solely from his father, Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving), in the quiet Appalachian town of Lynchburg, Va., in the early 1940s. Young Desmond learns to eschew violence — for reasons that become clear in the film — so much that he refuses to even touch a gun.

When Desmond’s brother enlists, the incorruptible boy can no longer ignore the evil in the world. Here the film departs from the real Medal of Honor recipient. The real Pfc. Desmond Doss was drafted, but his struggle to gain status as a conscious objector was surely no easier then as it was portrayed in Gibson’s film.

Enlisting voluntarily also emphasizes the main conflict of the movie, how Desmond can be a good soldier without fighting, how he can fulfill his duty to country without compromising his belief in God’s law.

Gibson never lets the protagonist’s convictions eclipse the importance of the great war. “I don’t got no problem wearing my uniform saluting the flag and doing my duty,” Doss says at one point in the film, describing himself as a “conscientious cooperator.”

From Desmond’s father to the military commanders, everyone is concerned with whether would be able to protect his unit when the bullets are whizzing by his head.

“Don’t count on him to save you on the battlefield because he will undoubtably be too busy wrestling with his conscience,” Sgt. Howell, portrayed by an otherwise corny Vince Vaughn, says of Doss to the rest of the men. Yet Doss surprises and honors them all with supreme courage in the face of danger.

Garfield, though he has matured since portraying “The Amazing Spider-Man,” retains his goofy lankiness, making his portrayal of the perpetually innocent Doss credible.

As one would expect from a Gibson war movie, the battlefield gore is jarring. Unlike some war movies, like “Saving Private Ryan,” where the camera jerks dizzily around the action, catching brief spurts of blood before cutting away, Gibson keeps the camera still and focused so the audience can see the bullet tear through a soldier’s face.

If you care about the nature of courage and remembering the heroes of WWII, don’t miss “Hacksaw Ridge.” If you’d rather not be able to identify each muscle and bone in the severed thigh on screen, wait to watch it on a smaller screen.

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