Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge *** (2016)

Mel Gibson's new film Hacksaw Ridge never shrinks from the horrors of war nor does it necessarily condemn war itself.  The film stars Andrew Garfield, in perhaps his best acting to date, as the real life pacifist/hero Desmond T. Doss who saved the lives of 75 men at the Battle of Okinawa. The first hour of the film explores Desmond's life before the war in the Blue Ridge region of Virginia.  His alcoholic father played Hugo Weaving is haunted by memories of the First World War and urges Desmond not to enlist. These early scenes are reminiscent of the 1941 film Sergeant York starring Gary Cooper, a Tennessee pacifist who won the Medal of Honor for his heroics on the Western Front.  Desmond eventually enlists as a medic with the intention of saving lives instead of taking them. At first other members of Desmond's unit resent him for being a conscientious objector, specifically his refusal to carry a gun. Vince Vaughn does fine work as the drill instructor(another war movie cliche) who comes to respect Desmond.  Once the film gets to Okinawa, the battle sequences are intense and graphic, recalling Saving Private Ryan.  Desmond's heroics are juxtaposed with Gibson's penchant for filming brutality, even including a few references to his controversial film The Passion of the Christ.  While some of the conventions of the war film are unavoidable, Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful piece of cinema about standing by your principles in face of incredible peer pressure and moral chaos.

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