War Film Raw, Violent and Stunning
By Dan Vukelich
Just in time for Veterans Day comes “Hacksaw Ridge,” director Mel Gibson’s attempt to outdo the violence of “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) while juxtaposing the gore of the battle for Iwo Jima with the pacifism of Desmond Doss, the only combat medic to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The horrific violence of the film’s battle scenes confirmed the stories of two of my uncles, a First Marine Division veteran of four years of storming Pacific islands, and the other a conscientious objector who served as an Army combat medic in Europe, starting in France at D-Day Plus 10.
The liberal use of flame-throwers and the stench of incinerated Japanese was something one uncle never forgot. The other never forgot the odor of blood or the three sleepless days of his first combat, courtesy of the methamphetamines his commanders gave their troops. I had always wondered how one man could single-handedly save 75 of his fellow troops.
Now I know, after having watched Doss (Andrew Garfield) scour a colorless battlefield under constant fire to drag one wounded man after another to the edge of a cliff and lower them with ropes to medics waiting in safety below.
“Hacksaw Ridge,” which is based on a true story, breaks no new ground. As a war movie – thanks to Gibson’s elegiac treatment of battle scenes, explosions, gore, dismemberments and death – it does, in fact, top the violence of “Private Ryan.”
But the film’s plot – a young Doss nearly kills his brother in fight, is whipped for it by his drunken father (Hugo Weaving, who played Agent Smith in “The Matrix” series), then vows never to kill, meets girl, wins girl, suffers abuse in boot camp for his religious beliefs, beats the odds and becomes a medic without ever handling a rifle, then commits heroic deeds – is a series of clichés that might have come from the writers of a World War II propaganda film – if it wasn’t all or mostly true.