BY ROGER THOMAS
A friend of mine had seen a documentary about a real hero on “The History Channel.” This friend invited another friend and me to his home to watch “The Conscientious Objector- Private Desmond Doss: The Fearless Warrior without a Rifle.” That documentary is on “YouTube” and it is worth seeing.
The same is true about the new film “Hacksaw Ridge” which also tells the amazing story of Desmond Doss. Mel Gibson, who won an Oscar for directing “Braveheart,” is once again telling a historical story. And this new film is better than his previous award-winning effort.
The film tells of a young man who wants to serve his country during World War II. However, he does not want to carry a gun. The Army wants to dismiss him, but Doss refuses a discharge. Eventually, Doss is granted the right to go into battle without any firearms.
I liked almost everything in this film. I like the opening which dealt with young Desmond and his brother acting violently as boys often do. I like the romance that develops between Doss and a nurse played by Teresa Palmer. The film develops their relationship well. The film also develops the various soldiers. By the time these young men go into battle, the audience cares about these characters. It makes the carnage that follows all the more effective, and the actions of Doss all the more powerful.
Then there are the scenes of conviction. Doss will not relent when he is ordered to take and use a gun. He will not relent when his fellow soldiers beat him for not cooperating. He will not relent even when his is locked up or facing a trial. We need more films that tell true stories of conviction. Stories of people who stand for something and do not falter. The cinema is filled with “superheroes” but not enough real heroes like Desmond Doss.
The battle scenes are very brutal and gory. Comparing “Hacksaw Ridge” to “Saving Private Ryan” this film matches the harshest moments from Spielberg’s epic. The effects of the battle are quite amazing. The visual effects, the production design and the cinematography are some of the best of this year. The documentary described this horrific scene, but Gibson has brought it back to life in his film. Seeing the carnage creates an even stronger respect for a man who refused to carry a gun, yet stayed on to save others while many were retreating.
One other strength in the film is Andrew Garfield’s incredible performance. I have watched Garfield since his debut in the film “Boy A.” He has been “Spider-Man” twice; he is the heart of “The Social Network,” the conscience in “99 Homes” and one of the stars of Martin Scorsese’s new film, “Silence,” due out before the end of this year. He has become an diverse actor who is always exciting to watch.
The one flaw I found in the film happens early. Two thirds of the film are the battle which is nearly perfect in every way. There is the short intro when Desmond is very young and the n a little later, meets with his future wife. Then there is boot camp. There were a couple of things about those boot camp scenes that did not fit with the solemn story that is presented. These moments are there for humor and levity. I felt they were out of place. I will not describe them here, but you will know when you see them. The true events may be exactly as they are portrayed, but I found them to be the weakest moments of the film.
However, that is a very minor complaint considering the power of this story, and the fact that it is one of the best films of 2016.