"Hacksaw Ridge" is a World War II movie directed by Mel Gibson and starring British-American Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist who, paradoxically, signs up for a US Army combat unit but refuses, because of his religious beliefs, to pick up a rifle, whether in self-defense or in defense of his fellow soldiers. The real Desmond Doss died in 2006; Gibson includes footage of him, his brother Hal, and some other grunts and officers who experienced the hell of Hacksaw Ridge, a Japanese-occupied piece of real estate that the Japanese did not easily give up. As Gibson tells it, the story follows a predictable arc. We get a sequence of scenes from Doss's life: a childhood with an abusive war-vet father (Hugo Weaving), the moment when Desmond realizes he will renounce violence forever, falling in love, enlisting, being rejected by his platoon and the training camp's officers, then proving his bravery on the field of battle by rescuing 75 out of 100 men who had been stranded up on Hacksaw Ridge after the call to retreat, lowering them down a cliff until his hands were bloody. Despite the movie's paint-by-numbers approach to Doss's life, that 75-out-of-100 figure is nothing to sneeze at.* The movie shows several characters telling Doss they were wrong about him, but at film's end, Doss himself says the most rewarding moment during the whole Hacksaw Ridge campaign was when one soldier smiled at him after Doss came to rescue him. Gibson's film often feels as formulaic as a TV movie, but one with "Saving Private Ryan" levels of blood and guts. As a result, I find myself in the strange position of being torn between admiration for Doss himself and discomfiture at Gibson's ham-handed hagiography (watch that very last scene with Andrew Garfield being lowered to the medical tent to see what I mean). The movie is worth watching for the story it tells and the man whose story this is, but Gibson isn't one for subtlety, and you'll immediately feel that, too.
*The exact number rescued is unknown, but 75 is considered a good estimate.
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