DVD Review - Hacksaw Ridge

Desmond T. Doss was a soldier from Virginia who wanted to serve in World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He served in the Battle of Okinawa in May 1945. Afterward, Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor, the first, conscientious objector to receive that recognition for "courage under fire." He rescued a documented 75 men by carrying them to safety one-by-one, even while under attack and himself unarmed.

Andrew Garfield (The Social Network and The Amazing Spider-Man) stars as Desmond Doss, a young patriot who is also a Seventh-Day Adventist. He wants to be an army medic and help people on the battlefield but he refuses to use or learn to use a gun because he doesn't want to kill people. For about 30 minutes, this movie makes an issue of Desmond's refusal even to touch a rifle or any gun. His refusal to touch a weapon despite wanting to be in the army rises to the level of a court martial.

His stubbornness is so ridiculous that it deserved a bit of exploration. Writers Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight don't really challenge his stubbornness on an intellectual or logical way. Desmond can't have been the first or the only Seventh-Day Adventist to serve in war or maybe he is because most opt not to serve in combat, but even so, why aren't other Adventists asked if Desmond's stubbornness is normal for Adventists to behave?

Aren't Adventists evangelical? Isn't it such that Adventists want not to go against the Ten Commandments but also they want everyone else not to go against the Ten Commandments like the one against killing? If so, how is it that Desmond can be okay with being in a platoon where men are killing and killing in his country's name? There appears to be a cognitive dissonance with Desmond. He won't kill but he's okay with people next to him killing or even killing in his defense.

There are even moments in this film, which go to that cognitive dissonance but are completely overlooked. Desmond says he doesn't want to touch a weapon, but there is a moment during the battle where he kicks a grenade toward the Japanese soldiers. In theory, doing that would kill those enemy soldiers. Yet, that moment passes without any question, even though it violates his own values about which previously he was so stubborn.

Another obvious question is if he were President, what would Desmond do about World War II? From the Holocaust to Pearl Harbor, could Desmond order men to war? He doesn't want to kill, but could he order soldiers to kill? If not, does that mean he's okay with the Holocaust or Pearl Harbor happening? If so, what does that say about his values? Desmond can be a conscientious objector because he is in a privileged position. It's easier in a way to carry a man than it is to carry the weight of the world.

It's not to say what he did wasn't brave and heroic because it absolutely was. Yet, I'm not sure what the takeaway is. Desmond is brave and heroic but not any more so than any other soldier. The movie perhaps suggests as much, but even if he is, it's not as if all soldiers can be like Desmond and enter into battlefields unarmed. The values of Desmond therefore are betrayed by the action sequences in this movie, particularly the final one, which almost celebrates American soldiers destroying the Japanese.

Director Mel Gibson doesn't really impress because the bullets, the bombs, the blood and the bodies dead are rather easy. Gore and chaos with flame-throwers to boot aren't that impressive given that the whole thing is just a back-and-forth of gunfire that doesn't progress beyond a single patch of land. Given that this film was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing, I suppose a certain technical craft can't be denied.

It's funny because I was reminded of two Tom Hanks films. When Desmond was going back-and-forth carrying or dragging injured men to safety, I thought of the sequence in Vietnam in Forrest Gump (1994) where we saw a similar thing. The first battle sequence here is also echoing the initial battle in Saving Private Ryan (1998). What those two Tom Hanks films do right that this one doesn't is letting us get to know the soldiers or developing their characters a bit more.

This movie has several soldiers with whom we become familiar, but not enough is done with them to have us care whether they lived or died. Luke Bracey (Point Break and The Best of Me) plays Smitty Ryker, the soldier who accuses Desmond of being a coward. Luke Pegler (See No Evil and The Condemned) plays Hollywood Zane, the soldier whom is totally naked in his introduction. Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers and Swingers) plays Sgt. Howell, the tough drill sergeant.

Luke Pegler (center) in 'Hacksaw Ridge'
Beyond those brief descriptions, the movie gives us nothing more of those three soldiers. Saving Private Ryan was nearly three hours long, so we had more time to get to know the soldiers there. This movie is just a little over two hours, which shouldn't be discounted, but the movie could have abandoned some of the lame love-story, which dominates the first half-hour of this film. Nothing in that first half-hour ultimately matters to the narrative, so it could have been ditched.

Rated R for graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images and some nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 11 mins.


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