Film re­view

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.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - ON SCREEN - Star­ring An­drew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weav­ing, Rachel Grif­fiths and Vince Vaughn. Di­rected by Mel Gib­son.

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.

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