Life is full of second chances for nearly everyone. And this film proves that it applies to Mel Gibson.
From my standpoint, the biggest surprise film of 2016 is Hacksaw Ridge. Based on the heroic actions of Congressional Medal of Honor Winner Private Desmond Doss during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, it is a violent, engrossing film that makes you feel at times that you are a part of the combat.
The surprising thing about this film covers two areas. The first is that it was directed by Mel Gibson, a disgraced Hollywood legend who you couldn’t help but feel would find a way to leave an inadvertent stain on this heroic true story. The second is that Private Doss was a conscientious objector who enlisted in the Marines to serve his country even though he couldn’t carry a rifle, much less kill anyone. He was subjected to immense ridicule along with physical assaults during his basic training, and he had to survive the attempt of his superiors to have him removed from the service.
While most of this 2 hour 11 minute film centers on the vicious fight on Okinawa, the first third covers Doss’ private life in Virginia. Andrew Garfield captures the innocence and religious commitment of Doss, and Mr. Gibson does a fantastic job telling this part of the story without sugar coating any of the details.
Teresa Palmer is equally captivating as she plays Dorothy Schutte, a nurse in Doss’ hometown who marries him when he returns on leave before being sent to the Pacific. Their relationship is both sweet and understated, and they form an endearing couple. Ms. Palmer has a great future in film, and you should take the time to see her very moving performance in the romantic zombie film, Warm Bodies (2013).
However, the strength of this film flows from roles by several supporting actors. It begins with Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths, who play Doss’ parents. In particular, Mr. Weaving is unforgettable as an alcoholic father who remains devastated by his service in World War I which resulted in the death of several close friends. He was a guy who hated himself almost as much as the rest of mankind, and it was sad to be reminded that our government had not reached the point where one could treat veterans suffering from PTSD. As for Mr. Weaving, you will get a good idea of his talent when you consider his recent performance in this year’s The Dressmaker where he was hysterical playing a transvestite police officer in a small Australian town.
And then there were Doss’ military comrades, beginning with Sam Worthington as his Captain, Vince Vaughn as his Staff Sergeant and Luke Bracey as a Marine who profoundly resented everything that Doss represented.
These guys and others were able to help paint an artistic picture showing Doss’ evolution from a hated comrade to an honored hero.
As a warning, please be advised that Gibson turns his camera on the incredible brutality involved on Okinawa. Soldiers on both sides were shot, stabbed, dismembered and burned to death, and the film supports the old phrase, “War is Hell.”
The movie ends with clips of Mr. Doss and others after the war. You see him receive his Congressional Medal from President Truman as a result of risking his own life to save over 50 wounded soldiers from eminent death on the battlefield. He was a quiet, subdued man, and that formed a central reason why many in the audience applauded as the film came to an end.