Hollywood decided to keep its trump-card World War II flick till the end of the year (it did the same in 2015 too, with Bridge of Spies releasing in October).
Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more of glorious battlefield victories the USA could speak of, director Mel Gibson manages to tell us a startlingly different tale — of a soldier who refused to carry a weapon but ended up receiving a Medal of Honour for his services.
Based on the true story of combat medic Desmond Doss, essayed to a near perfect hillbilly-Virginian by Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge is perhaps the best (only?) war movie of 2016. The title refers to a steep cliff face located on the island of Okinawa in Japan and as Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) tells his unit, “Conquer Okinawa and you conquer Japan.”
The only problem is Private Doss is a very faithful Christian, a conscientious objector who refuses to hold a rifle. “With the world set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem so bad of me to put a little bit of it back together,” he says when he’s tried for insubordination.
There are painful flashbacks from his childhood and years as a teen, when he decides he’d rather stay true to the Sixth Commandment (‘Thou shalt not kill”) than have any blood on his hands. He aspires to become a doctor after he receives compliments for strapping an ad-hoc, lifesaving tourniquet on an injured man’s leg. He goes on to save 75 more lives of comrades in uniform, who labelled him a coward for sticking to his religious beliefs, as bullets fly and grenades explode in the background.
Mel Gibson, wearing the director’s cap after ten years, remains a master of blood and gore while depicting the travails of a pacifist soldier. We saw how torture weapons sear and rip the human skin in Passion of the Christ, and later, how the innards of a tapir and a jaguar chewing on the face of a person look like in Apocalypto. Here, we see his visual mastery over blown-off limbs, corpses infested with rats and maggots and also, dishonoured Japanese committing harakiri.
Most of the dialogues are over-the-top (they strangely work), and Doss’ courtship with his future-wife (played by Teresa Palmer) is forgetful; they really need to do something about this stereotype of an excessively worried female partner, whose role is reduced to handing over a photograph of herself and saying, “Come back home to me.” Vince Vaughn as Sergeant Howell gives us a good dose of military humour while training his recruits (was he trying too hard to pull off a Full Metal Jacket though, I wondered). The last time I saw audience in a theatre resoundingly applaud and whistle for the main character in a war film was when Chris Kyle’s bullet found its target, nearly 2 km away, in American Sniper. This time they did it when Private Doss prays and places a Bible in his pocket before he goes all in with his unit for the last time.