By Robin E. Simmons
When it comes to directing war films, Mel Gibson has proven himself among the best of the best. From BRAVEHEART to APOCALYPTO, Gibson has created hours of gripping entertainment that showcases rousing stories of blood, guts and glory that vast global audiences have enjoyed. After a decade away, with his return to the director’s chair, Gibson proves once again that he still has the mojo to deliver a relevant true story that touches on huge themes of honor, brotherhood, faith and “grace under pressure,” as Ernest Hemingway once defined raw courage.
Almost as much has been written about Gibson the man finding personal redemption with this film that has already been widely praised with multiple standing ovations at industry screenings. I hope Gibson’s new movie restores his private and public reputation and ensures his once tenuous position as a Hollywood player. I like him as a person and filmmaker and applaud his story-telling skills. We need great storytellers to remind us who we are and what we can become.
The story of Desmond Doss is about an unlikely guy who knowingly risks his life to rescue 75 men trapped on a ridge under enemy fire that made fun of him and called him a coward because he wouldn’t carry a gun.
Andrew Garfield stars as Private Doss, the actor actually looks a little like young Doss. He does a fine job of capturing the awkwardness of Doss in his own skin.
When I was a kid in junior high school, Desmond Doss came to our little school in Dallas, TX. I remember him as a not very charismatic guy. In fact, he was more like the TV character Gomer Pyle than Gary Cooper’s pacifist “Sergeant York.” But this skinny hick from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia sure had a story to tell. He told us he enlisted in the Army because it was his sense of patriotic duty. “How could I not serve my country?” He asked. However, he found his deep religious faith at odds with his duties as a soldier. Namely: to kill. Doss’s primitive religious belief embraced a literal obedience to the 10 Commandments especially — “Thou shalt not kill.” At one point in the movie we see that as a younger man Doss almost shoots his father and understand why he refuses to touch or carry a gun even in basic training. His fellow recruits brand him a coward and subject him to ridicule and physical abuse.
Gibson directs the intense battle scenes with a blazing ferocity that is as beautiful as it is horrific. I can’t think of a war movie scene where the imagery of “war as hell” has ever been made more vivid or visceral.
I was moved by the scene of Doss rendering aid to a wounded Japanese soldier inside a confusing labyrinth of waterlogged tunnels. Clearly Doss was attempting to adhere to the message of Jesus to “Love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you.” The dangerous business of rescuing wounded soldiers off the precarious escarpment that has been named “Hacksaw Ridge is stomach tightening and masterfully executed. It’s no wonder there were standing ovations at previous industry and festival screenings. This powerful film is really a love story, as in: “No man has greater love than he who risks his life to save his brother.”
The screenwriting is tight and stays mostly true to the details of Doss’s story and the supporting cast is strong. Vince Vaughn impresses in the role of Doss’ Sergeant. But for me, the standout supporting character was Doss’ father, played by Hugo Weaving. Teresa Palmer is pretty and country fresh as Desmond’s love interest.
There’s a lot to be said regarding this remarkable film of faith and courage. Maybe the time has come for more conversations about the role of religion and war.
If you love inspirational movies that show humans at their best, this is an absolute must-see! Highest recommendation. Now playing at Mary Pickford.
NEW FOR THE HOME THEATER:
Al Pacino, Marthe Keller and director Sydney Pollack buckle you into the driver’s seat of a scenic, European-style romance set in the death-shadowed Formula One racing world. The beautiful young Pacino is at his best in this intelligently directed and skillfully acted romantic melodrama. Pacino is an American Race Car driver on the Euro circuit who falls in love with an impulsive eccentric (Marthe Keller). Their love affair takes on added depth when she challenges his sullen introversion and he discovers her tragic secret. Henri Decaë’s dreamy cinematography and a lovely score by Dave Grusin (available on an isolated track) add immensely to the singular pleasure of this fine film. Twilight Time Movies (limited edition 3,000 units).
From AMERICAN GIGOLO and CAT PEOPLE director Paul Schrader comes the long awaited Blu-ray debut of his brilliant, electrifying porn-industry thriller starring the great George C. Scott as a desperate and angry Midwestern Calvinist businessman searching for his vanished daughter in the scuzzy subculture of the West Coast porn industry. In his effort to trace his missing girl he joins forces with a young hooker (Season Hubley) he hopes will help; their growing emotional relationship is the beating heart of this harrowing film. Jack Nitzsche composed the memorable score. This new hi-def edition features a fresh Audio commentary by writer-director Schrader.
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