Our first offering this week comes from Phil, who wanted to re-visit Hacksaw Ridge (2016). It’s a biographical war movie and tells the true story of Desmond Doss, an American 7th day adventist who signs up to join the US Army and ends up being the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honour for deeds above and beyond the call of duty as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa.
The plot starts out showing the family circumstances of the Doss family. We briefly go back in time to 1925 in Virginia where they live, and Desmond (Andrew Garfield) nearly kills his younger brother during a rough play fight. His Mom Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) is supportive and loving, but his father Tom (Hugo Weaving) rules with a whip, and is suffering from PTSD from the 1st WW as he lost all his pals he went to war with. 15 years later and Desmond takes an injured man to hospital where he meets his future wife, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), a nurse, and he becomes interested in medical matters. They get engaged to be married just before he signs up for the army after the attack on Pearl Harbour to serve as an army medic. He arrives in Fort Jackson to undergo basic training, and at first all goes well as he excels physically, but then it comes to weapon training and he refuses to have anything to do with a gun, and also refuses to train on Saturdays as that’s his religious thing to do. Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughan) Doss’s platoon commander, and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) try to have him discharged for psychiatric reasons but after seeing a shrink it’s determined that his religious beliefs don’t amount to a mental illness. Doss carries on with his training but has become a pariah to the rest of the trainees. Howell and Glover give him onerous extra duties and the trainees beat him up badly one night trying to get him to leave of his own accord, but he refuses to name his attackers and carries on regardless.
At the end of basic training the platoon are given leave, and Des is supposed to be going home to marry Dorothy, but instead he is arrested for insubordination for not doing the weapons training and put in a cell. Glover and Howell try and convince him to plead guilty so he can leave the army without charge, but he refuses to compromise his beliefs. During the subsequent court marshall, his Dad bursts in with a letter to the court from a Brigadier General who was Dad’s commanding officer in WW1. The letter informs the court that Desmonds pacifism is defended by the US constitution, so the charges are dropped, Desmond and Dorothy get married, then he’s shipped off to the Pacific theatre with the 77th Infantry Division. His unit ends up on the Maeda Escarpment otherwise known as Hacksaw Ridge, where, during the initial fighting, he saves the life of one of the guys he trained with, Smitty (Luke Bracier). The next morning the Japanese launch a huge counter-attack and the Americans have to fall back. Smitty is killed and many of the platoon are injured on the battlefield including Sergeant Howell. The rest of them make it down the cliffs but Desmond stays behind and rescues the injured giys one at a time, lowering them down by rope and praying to save ‘just one more’ each time he returns to find another injured soldier. All in all he rescues 75 men. The unit below are amazed at how many are being sent down. The next day Desmond rescues Howell and they both escape from the Ridge. Captain Glover apologises to Desmond for thinking him a coward, and tells him that the men won’t go back up there unless Desmond goes with them, of course he agrees, but not until he’s finished his Sabbath prayers. With reinforcements they return to the ridge and they push the Japanese back. Some of them pretend to surrender but it’s an ambush and Desmond deflects grenades away from Glover but is hit by shrapnel himself, and then lowered back to base. At the end the movie shows photo’s of Desmond receiving the Medal of Honour from President Truman.
This was an amazing movie and I didn’t mention at the start that this was directed by Mel Gibson. What a tour de force by him. He used minimal visual effects preferring to keep things as real as possible. Andrew Garfield (arguably the worst spiderman ever) put his heart and soul into this and wonderfully conveyed the essence of Desmond. There’s an interview with Desmond on the bluray extras and he seemed such a lovely guy, but we already know that from watching Garfield’s performance. Teresa Palmer is becoming one of my favourite actresses, recently saw her in Cut Bank and Message from the King and she always aces the part, here she is feisty, sweet and luminous. Vaughan and Worthington don’t put a foot wrong. I think actors tend to rise to the occasion in true war stories, they certainly did here. Weaving and Griffiths only had small parts, but owned them well.
Fraggle Rating: Bloody Brilliant.