Friday, July 26, 2019

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge; war drama, USA, 2016; D: Mel Gibson, S: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Ryan Corr, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn

Virginia. Desmond Doss was raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist. His initial date with a nurse, Dorothy, ends up awkwardly, since his traditional upbringing makes him unusual to act with women, but they get engaged. World War II breaks out, and Desmond enlists in the army—but refuses to carry a gun, firmly convinced in the commandment that one must not kill. Sergeant Howell gives him difficult tasks in the unit, while the others bully him, in hopes that Desmond will leave on his own. However, a court decides that a religious belief must be respected, and grants Desmond the request not to carry a gun. During the Battle of Okinawa, hundreds of soldiers are killed on a plateau, yet Desmond manages to retrieve over fifty wounded soldiers, descend them down to for the medical treatment and thus save their lives. Later, Desmond is awarded for his bravery.

With his 5fth feature length film as a director, Mel Gibson returned in big style with this honest, emotional, humanistic and unassuming anti-war biopic that has a story so unusual that it is even more surprising that it was based on a true story of Desmond Doss—a soldier who refused to carry a gun. "Hacksaw Ridge" starts off terribly pretentious and preachy, with slow motion sequences of soldiers dying on the battle front while Desmond is narrating in misguided dogmatic fashion: "Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the Earth." Luckily, the movie later manages to pull itself together and actually continue with a decent, proper narrative, and a lot of kudos should be given to its main hero, who is such an excellent, fascinating character: he is the embodiment of integrity, honor and innocence, a character who stands by his decision to not kill anybody in the war, but only save lives. Such characters were rarely put on the big screens, whereas Andrew Garfield delivers a fine performance. The motivations for Desmond's pacifism are never quite clear: was it because of his religious upbringing? Was it because of the scene where he got carried away in a fight and used a stone to hit his brother's head, almost killing him in the process? Was it because of his father, a nervous war veteran who lost all his friends in World War I? Either way, his conviction manages to carry the entire film.

The army recruit training segment offers refreshing comical lines from comedian Vince Vaughn, who plays the drill Sergeant Howell. In one funny sequence, St. Howell inspects the barrack, and orders all the soldiers to run outside for training. One soldier was exercising naked, so he wants to quickly take his clothes on before going outside, but St. Howell orders him to go outside naked: "I believe that any man who takes great pride in their natural naked state will surely enjoy the brisk of the outdoors. Now move your privates, private parts! Move it! You son of an exhibitionist!" The puzzlement of the army superiors upon hearing that Desmond refuses to touch a rifle or work on Saturday is met with cynicism, with one official commenting that they will just have to ask the enemy to not attack on Saturday. However, there is something pure in Desmond, who thereby manages to achieve his goal and work as a medic on the front. The follow-up segment of the Battle of Okinawa is shockingly brutal, naturalistic and dark, showing dozens of soldiers being practically hacked by heavy blows of bullets, or burnt alive by flame throwers, on both sides. Gibson gives undue weight to these overlong bloody battles, since his main protagonist is not a part of them, proving once again his strange fascination with violence seen already in "Braveheart" and "The Passion of the Christ". Nevertheless, Desmond is there to later on pick up wounded soldiers, risking of getting detected by the enemy. This gives "Hacksaw Ridge" some aura of humanity: in the midst of all this hate, one man operates his actions based on love, which creates an interesting defiance and opposition.


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