I was thinking…
…every once in a while a movie is released that every school child in America should be required to watch. I’m not talking about some propagandist tripe spewed by the most boring ex-vice president in history. I certainly don’t mean any I.Q.-lowering comedy. There are some films made that boldly and sometimes harshly stand as a reminder of what some have experienced or sacrificed in order to help defend this nation and defend the lives of others.
As this country was birthed and baptized in blood and fire, naturally these films of which I speak–with few exceptions–are war movies. The latest, Hacksaw Ridge, belongs in the canon of war films that will stir the soul, lay bare the brutality and sheer horror of the battlefield and fill the heart with swelling respect, admiration and pride for those who gave everything for their country and for their fellow man.
Based on the experiences of real life war hero, Desmond Doss, Hacksaw Ridge opens during the Great Depression in the mountains of Virginia. A young Desmond Doss and his brother–energetic and adventurous–are engaging in a bit of none-too-brotherly fisticuffs one day when Desmond nearly kills his brother. Although their father, Tom, (Hugo Weaving—V for Vendetta, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix trilogy) is tempted to physically punish Desmond, the latter finds his soul harrowed up by the almost murderous experience and the course of his life begins to change from that moment onward.
Alcoholic and clearly suffering from what many decades later would be labeled as post-traumatic stress disorder, Tom is a shell-shocked veteran of The Great War and has never managed to leave the horror of the battlefield behind him. He, unfortunately, takes his demons out on his wife and children.
Years pass and Desmond (Andrew Garfield—The Amazing Spider-Man) manages to save the life of another young man by applying a tourniquet to his punctured leg and carrying him to the hospital. While waiting to ‘get his belt back,’ Desmond is smitten by a young nurse working there (Teresa Palmer—Warm Bodies).
Due to his interest in the nurse, Dorothy, and the experience of having saved someone’s life, Desmond decides to pursue a medical occupation. But as the United States becomes embroiled in World War II and Desmond’s brother enlists, Desmond cannot deny his own internal call to serve.
The only problem is, as a devout Seventh Day Adventist, Desmond believes in a strict adherence to the scriptures and, naturally, the commandment: thou shalt not kill.
Believing he can best serve as a medic, Desmond enlists, much to the chagrin of his mournful father.
Facing adversity months before ever laying eyes on an actual enemy of the country, Desmond’s refusal to touch a weapon earns him the ire of his fellow soldiers, commanding officers and drill instructor who all see him as a liability.
Holding to his principles, Desmond faces an almost certain defeat in a court martial before he can even serve overseas.
Justice prevails, however, and he is shipped to the Pacific Theater of Operations where he and his company are ordered to make the seventh attempt to capture the infamous Hacksaw Ridge on the island nation of Okinawa.
While up on that plateau of carnage, Desmond goes to war against an enemy without a single weapon to defend himself.
A movie could easily be symbolized as a chain. As a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, it is therefore true many movies have failed because of one glaring error or oversight. A bad script, poor acting performances or shoddy art direction or cinematography can scuttle an otherwise decent picture. In the case of Hacksaw Ridge, however, its weakest link–if I would be forced to indicate the existence of one–would be the musical score.
Yes, those who are familiar with my writing or know of my rather prolific movie soundtrack collection know I consider music to be an integral part of the overall movie experience, so I am hesitant to admit that the music’s punch, or lack thereof, does not seem to detract too much from the high quality of Hacksaw Ridge as a whole. While composer Rupert Gregson-Williams does manage to coax forth some powerful moments with his work, it is somewhat lackluster and not a single strain stays with you as soon as you leave the theater.
One cannot help but think, had Mel Gibson been given the chance, James Horner–the composer on Gibson’s Braveheart–would have been the first choice for the score had he not passed away in 2015. Furthermore, Gibson actually lists Horner during the end credits, almost cementing this theory.
Nevertheless, the other aspects of Hacksaw so propel it past nearly every other film of this year, it can be forgiven its one weak link. The performances, specifically from young Andrew Garfield and the aging but powerful Hugo Weaving, carry this film with a strength akin to that displayed by Private Doss himself. Both actors are worthy of acclaim.
Should the Academy ‘deign’ to give a nod to Mel Gibson after all but crucifying him (if you’ll pardon the pun) over the last six years, it would be surprising. But the Golden Globes and SAG awards have already seen past his past, as it were, and are looking at his current work. So, who knows. Hollywood is so quick to forgive the many, many sins of the left, perhaps even they are willing to forgive someone coming from the other side of the spectrum.
The acting and directing aside, nothing will stay with you longer or with more power than the basis of what makes movies movies: the sights and sounds, specifically those in the second half of the film. While the first half is comprised of Doss’ upbringing and struggle within his own army, the second half is, as General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “all hell.”
Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa is portrayed as a level out of Dante’s Inferno. The deafening cacophony of the battle, the horrific sights and the sudden, pointless brutality of the killing creates a ball of ice that sits in the pit of the stomach like a steely squid. Its tendrils slowly spread within your insides and refuse to release their grip until the credits roll.
But it is because this film creates these feelings of despair and hopelessness that Doss’ actions are made all the more powerful and courageous. And those feelings it generates–the blend of terror and honor, rage and glory, sacrifice and faith–are what will ultimately make Hacksaw Ridge one of the great war films in history.
Ammo Dump rating: 9 out of 10 bullets
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show every Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray.. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter
Run time: 139 minutes (2 hours 19 minutes)