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War is Belle

“Hacksaw Ridge” is the true story of Desmond T. Doss who, in the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, directly rescued about 75 men and treated some 55 more to enable their escape and survival. His immense bravery was recognized, and he became the first conscientious objector, a person for whatever reason objects to military service, to be given the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is said that during his tour as an army medic he rescued 300 men in about 3 weeks. 

He was known as the war hero that never touched a rifle.

The film’s pacing was so strong that the 140 minute runtime felt like a breeze blowing past, albeit a violent breeze. The story begins with Desmond’s childhood, which gave a poignant sense of the where, why, and how he developed the pacifism that would make him legendary. His convictions and motivations were made extremely clear, yet the drama never felt too heavy-handed.

Nostalgia for the Americana of his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, and classic wartime love stories may have contributed to the feelings of the warm and vibrant opening, but as the film builds up to the upcoming war, the rose tint of his safety in childhood quickly fades. The beautiful, light atmosphere become berated and beaten into submission in conjunction with our protagonist as we are carried into WWII. The opposite of the anti-hero, yet not quite the hero, Doss doesn’t claim heroism or feel typically victorious, but earns the praise and title through selfless acts of valor in the midst of raging chaos.

Andrew Garfield expertly gives a performance that’s both tragic and heart swelling. The conviction towards pacifism brings about a character that other people struggle to understand, and Garfield treads the line of
strength and mercy while being painted as a coward incapable of fighting alongside his fellow men. He takes on more than he needs to because he believes in it and gives up more than he has to because others don’t.

The portrayal was reportedly accurate enough to move the real Doss’s son to tears when witnessing the likeness of his father.
Hugo Weaving’s role as Desmond’s father was, from the start of the film, the first performance that foreshadowed the terrifying intensity that would come. Masterfully played by a veteran of acting, his role was far too good for the amount of screen it was allowed. As a formative figure in the film, he still left me wanting more. In the quaint small town and lush greenery draping the beginning of the film, Weaving was the warning of the tragedy of war, the preemptor of horror before we see just how horrible war can be.  

Mel Gibson once again blows his already heavily-respected acting career out of the water with his excellence in his directing career. Besides pacing and story, his mastery also lies in the emotional impact of every set up being orchestrated similar to music. An almost melodic sense of growth, flourish and destruction can be felt as the inner and outer battlefields of our characters are given equal importance and care.  

The idea that a war movie about a non-violent war hero could balance itself so well in both its brutality and beauty may seem thematically correct, but the temptation to lower the violence or amp up the emotion must have been tempting. The chord is perfectly struck and we’re left with a bleak and somehow still uplifting image of mankind and its complicated relationship with war, belief, and morality.

Featured Image by Vitor D’Agnoluzzo on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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