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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 24, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review: Mel Gibson Is Back In Top Form As A Director In A Movie About Peace And War, Love And Conviction That You Should Not Miss

AS A DIRECTOR, Mel Gibson is best known for the historical film about a 13th century Scottish freedom fighter, “Braveheart”, which won the Oscar best picture and Oscar best director awards in 1995. In 2004, he depicted the last hours of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ” then in 2006, he made the violent but visually stunning “Apocalypto”, set in early Mayan civilization. He now returns, ten years later, in “Hacksaw Ridge”, the true story of Private First Class Desmond T. Doss, the first conscientious objector in World War II to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The movie starts with two boys in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, brothers Desmond and Howard Doss, forever competing with each other. Their dad is a World War I veteran who was so traumatized by his experiences in battle that he has become a drunkard and is prone to violence. Desmond realizes his own capability for anger needs to be tamed when he nearly killed his own brother during a childhood fight and when he nearly shoots his dad after beating up his mother.

When World War II erupts, Desmond joins the army with the intention of being a medic, because he shuns violence and refuses to kill other people. While helping someone injured in an accident, he meets a beautiful nurse, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), in a hospital and they fall in love.

As Doss undergoes basic boot camp training, he becomes the butt of jokes of other trainees who ridicule him for being a coward as he refuses to fight and won’t touch a gun. He was even brought to trial, but his dad intervenes with the help of some higher ups and Doss stays in the service as a conscientious objector. In the spring of 1945, he joins his battalion in the battle against the Japanese in Okinawa, where they attack Hacksaw Ridge.

The ridge is a 400-foot high escarpment that has become a Japanese stronghold and which they must
take back at all cost. And it is here where Doss proves his patriotism and willingness for self sacrifice. Just as his troops are retreating, he keeps on returning to the battlefield, amidst all the shooting and the bombing, to retrieve wounded soldiers by carrying them on his shoulders then lowering them down the ridge by a rope harness he has made using his own hands, to ensure their safety. Records show that he rescued a total of 75 soldiers, including those who earlier humiliated and beat him up for refusing to fight. He’s even shown being compassionate to a wounded Japanese soldier.

The battle scenes reminded us of the adrenalin-charged, jingoistic old war movies we saw as a child
soon after WWII, like “Guadalcanal Diary”, “Sands of Iwo Jima”, “To Hell and Back”, “Back to Bataan” and “Paths of Glory”. It is also reminiscent of the more recent “Saving Private Ryan” in presenting the horrors and the carnage of war without any reservations.

Andrew Garfield (“Spiderman”) is totally persuasive as Doss, which is why he earned an Oscar nomination for his exceptional performance. He is well supported by Hugo Weaving as his alcoholic dad, Teresa Palmer as his young wife, Vince Vaughn as his training officer and Sam Worthington as the captain who berates Doss for refusing to fight but who praises him later.

Later on, we are shown an interview with real life Doss, now old and wrinkled, and it gives us the creeps somehow when we learn that he died sometime after that interview. The heroism he showed here is not about taking the lives of the enemy, but about saving the lives of the wounded soldiers. His acts of selflessness and decision to stick to his personal convictions helped a lot of the injured soldiers survive the war.

The movie is about the love for peace of the lead character, but the depiction of the brutality of ground warfare here can be very graphic, so the squeamish should be warned. But all in all, this is a film about conviction, love, family and faith that you would not want to miss.