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"HACKSAW RIDGE"
(2016) (Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Action: A conscientious objector joins the American forces during WWII as a medic and must contend with others' views of him as well as serving in combat.
PLOT:
It's the 1940s and Desmond T. Doss (ANDREW GARFIELD) is a young Virginia man who's decided he can no longer sit by while others go off to war to fight the enemy. That decision doesn't sit well with his parents, Tom (HUGO WEAVING) and Bertha (RACHEL GRIFFITHS), especially due to their religious beliefs and having to deal with Tom's untreated PTSD following his service in WWI. It also confuses Desmond's nurse girlfriend, Dorothy Schutte (TERESA PALMER), who knows he's a pacifist due to his religious beliefs, but his plan is to become a combat medic to help others.

During basic training, Desmond's stance of being a conscientious objector -- and refusing to handle any weapons -- doesn't sit well with his drill instructor, Sergeant Howell (VINCE VAUGHN), or commanding officer, Captain Glover (SAM WORTHINGTON), a sentiment shared by other soldiers such as Smitty (LUKE BRACEY) who doesn't understand why Desmond joined the military if that's his stance. Despite that, physical abuse and even a court martial trial, Desmond perseveres, and through a stroke of luck and his father's intervention, the would-be medic is allowed to continue.

He ultimately ends up in Okinawa with Sgt. Howell and Capt. Glover and the rest of his platoon that includes, among others, Smitty, Andy 'Ghoul' Walker (GORAN D. KLEUT) and Milt 'Hollywood' Zane (LUKE PEGLER). Their objective is to ascend a sheer, several hundred foot tall cliff and take a piece of land that's become known as Hacksaw Ridge due to the carnage inflicted by the Japanese forces positioned there. Still refusing to handle a weapon, Desmond joins the others in combat and does what he can to save as many of his fellow G.I.s as he can.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
It's been seventy-one years since the Germans and then Japanese separately surrendered to Allied forces to put an end to WWII. During that period, there have been countless films made about that conflict based on both true events and figures, and fictitious ones using the global war as the backdrop for their stories.

While the latter can and probably will keep coming until they're not making movies anymore, when considering all of those years and films, you'd think we would have seen recreations of every true-life tale possible. Yet, every once in awhile, a previously untold story gets to see the light of day and that from a projector.

Sometimes that's due to those involved in such matters -- or their families -- not wanting the story told until after their passing. Others sometimes have a change of heart in such regards and eventually sell their story to Hollywood, while a few sometimes weren't previously considered big or noteworthy enough to be turned into a movie.

I have no idea why the unique tale of Desmond Doss and his involvement in the brutal American assault on the titular locale in "Hacksaw Ridge" took those 71 years to make it onto the big screen, but the reason definitely does not fall into that last category. And that's because Doss, a 26-year-old Virginia native at the time the main part of this war story takes place, is one of the most unique real-life figures in that war and thus on the screen as well.

A self-proclaimed pacifist and conscientious objector, he joined the military to serve his country. That obviously didn't sit well with his fellow soldiers, drill sergeant or commanding officer, and he endured lots of verbal and sometimes physical abuse for his unusual stance. But the fact that he ended up saving 75 of his fellow men from the carnage of 1945 -- serving as a medic and without ever using or even touching a weapon to be used in self-defense -- not only makes him a noteworthy real-life hero, but it also makes for an interesting and engaging character in what turns out to be a memorable and terrific film.

And one that's likely going to resurrect the Hollywood career of none other than Mel Gibson. A breakout star many, many moons ago as an actor who then went behind the camera to helm a number of films, including the blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson created a media and social firestorm with his very public (and apparently very intoxicated) anti-Semitic comments.

After that, everyone figured he was done in the movie world. But with this war flick -- that received a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival in September -- clearly signals his return and could very well turn out to be a huge commercial and artistic hit. And that's not only due to it being a well-made, gripping and emotionally moving film, but also one that plays across all political spectrums. It's both anti-war and rah-rah patriotism in one expertly assembled package, and in that way, it somewhat resembles "American Sniper" (that also became an unexpected blockbuster stateside).

What makes that remarkable is that on a basic level, it's quite similar to countless other films we've seen before. We have a young, charming guy (an uber-winning Andrew Garfield who should get some major award consideration) from small town America who ends up in the military where he must contend with a very vocal and verbally abusive drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn, seemingly miscast at first due to his recent spate of goofy comedies, but who uses that comedic touch to great advantage here). After a chunk of the film is devoted to such basic training, he then ends up in combat and in the literal and figurative vein of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," he and we witness the no holds barred carnage of combat.

So, one can easily be led to believe this is just another of those green recruit goes to war and grows up stories. It is that, but so much more, thanks to how Gibson has assembled everything (working from Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan's screenplay that's based on Booton Herndon's book) and the solid to terrific performances from all involved (including Teresa Palmer as the protagonist's nurse girlfriend, Hugo Weaving as his WWI veteran father who's long suffered from PTSD and Luke Bracey as a fellow soldier who goes from bully to good friend). The offering also works thanks to the smart use of some comic relief to temper the grisly stuff and allow us to connect with the characters even better, not to mention the unusual heroic protagonist around which everything revolves.

Simply put, this is a terrific war film that not only brings to light the tale of a remarkable real-life man in a story I'd never heard of before, but also a movie that could prove to be a legendary actor and director's redemption and resurrection in an industry where he was otherwise pretty much declared dead. "Hacksaw Ridge" rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed October 26, 2016 / Posted November 4, 2016


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