TV3’s movie expert Kate Rodger views Mel Gibson’s interpretation of a true-life war-hero story, and becomes a binge-watch fan of an Australian drama.
The true story of American World War II hero Desmond T. Doss is certainly one begging to be made into a big-screen movie and Mel Gibson is the director to do it. Breathtakingly brutal, Gibson’s commitment to visualising the horrors of the battlefield is an all-in sensory assault and the most terrifyingly immersive for me since Saving Private Ryan. It needs to be to truly do justice to the beyond courageous actions of this hero and the telling of his story. We must be under no illusions – the bravery of this one man on the bloody battlefield of Okinawa is close to inconceivable.
British actor Andrew Garfield takes the lead role, his job and Gibson’s to give context to
Doss’s choices and staunch religious convictions. Class Australian actors Hugo Weaving (who gives an exceptional performance) and Rachel Griffiths are Doss’s parents, both struggling themselves to recover from the first Great War, where Doss Snr was one of few of his platoon to survive.
The early set-up of Doss’s childhood in Virginia and the events which saw him turn to God and the church are fairly simply told, and done so with broad strokes and slightly clichéd sentimentality; but it’s effective enough. The love story between Doss and his sweetheart Dorothy (Teresa
Palmer) is plagued with a similarly twee feel, but thanks to the gentle chemistry between these two actors I was easily drawn in.
As well as being an intensely religious man, Doss was also a very patriotic one. He would not stand by as the men in his town left to fight in the war, and he enlisted in the army. His only condition? He would never carry a weapon and would never kill. Needless to say, the army, particularly those he would serve alongside, were none too happy about this. Doss would be court-martialled for his beliefs and hated by his own battalion. But he was cleared to go to war and he returned a hero; the only conscientious objector to receive the highest award for bravery the US Army can give – the Congressional Medal of Honour.
It’s when Doss and his battalion get to Okinawa that Gibson really drives his story home. The gentle set-up of course augments the sudden, jarring, horrific onslaught of war. There was no escaping it for Doss and his fellow soldiers and there is certainly no escaping it for the cinema audience. As the men around him were slaughtered, Doss would show his bravery over and over and over again, saving dozens of lives.
This film is not one for the faint of heart and nor should it be. Go armed with the knowledge that war is hell and Mel Gibson doesn’t want us to forget that.
Garfield is excellent as Doss – outstanding in fact – and another reason why Hacksaw Ridge tells such an important story so compellingly.
He would never carry a weapon and would never kill.