Directed by Mel Gibson
The movie sets the tone by beginning with a fiery scene, in which we see destruction and mayhem on the battlefield. Our main character Desmond Doss begins to narrate, quoting scripture, which gives us an idea where the film is heading. We are then taken back to his childhood, where we learn why he refuses to wield a firearm later in his life. Hugo Weaving is great here in a small role as Desmond’s alcoholic father, who is a veteran himself of the First World War.
This serves a nice introduction into why Desmond is the way he is. What doesn’t work though is that barely fifteen minutes into the movie, he meets a girl. Ten minutes later they want to get married.
Given this is a two hour movie, this entire sequence could have been snipped, making for a snappier movie, while also allowing us to not suffer through the awful, sentimental melancholic bullshit that we are forced to watch. I was close to walking out, as this section of the movie honestly feels like a bog-standard romantic comedy, not to mention it is very out of touch with the tone of the rest of the movie. It feels like it was shoehorned in, by someone lacking any ounce of film-making skill.
After this trite, we move to the army barracks for training. Desmond’s refusal to carry a gun is seen by most of his comrades (and superiors) as cowardly, and his religious beliefs are mocked. “This is war” he is told, implying that God’s commandments don’t apply on the battlefield.
As if we are watching a remake of Full Metal Jacket, the next thirty or so minutes is dedicated to obstacle courses, a drill officer screaming insults at the privates (with little humour, unlike Kubrick’s classic) while Desmond is alienated from the group. A religious, southern Private Pyle. Only Desmond’s fate is far different, as we know. If we didn’t know this, there could have been some tension, but the biggest problem with these ‘based on true events’ type films is just that – we know the story, so there is no tension. We know roughly what is coming.
Soon we find ourselves in the battlefield, as the film borrows another scene, this one from Band of Brothers, as the fresh soldiers arrive only to see the battered and broken men retreating from their goal – to capture and hold Hacksaw Ridge. Much like the entire film, this scene has no semblance of subtlety at all, as the camera focuses on the trucks carrying dead soldiers, all conveniently placed so that their heads are at the end of the truck, where we can see them. Oh, and their faces are all covered in a ton of blood – and not dried blood either.
I’m not sure how dead men can bleed fresh blood either, but this film doesn’t seem to have a great relationship with the concept of logic.
The final part of the film is where the action takes place, and it seems clear from the start that this is made for the Call of Duty crowd. The action is frantic, fast, awkwardly shot and hard to follow; soldiers are killed all over, but since we never get to know any of them, their deaths have no dramatic impact at all. Who are they? The same applies to the men Desmond saves; the lack of character depth here is quite astonishing. There are also a few set-pieces during the action are not only extremely well trodden, but also very predictable.
Mel Gibson takes some cues from Passion of the Christ, as the battle scenes are needlessly bloody and gory. Multiple shots of legless men, intestines lying on the ground, rats eating maggots out of a corpse… it is far too much. War is hell, no shit, but dwelling on the physical impact so much affects the rest of the movie. There should have been a lot to say, given that this is an incredible story of bravery and dedication. This is a man obeying the ten commandments on a freaking battlefield! Hell, the movie barely comments on the fact that the man did all this without a gun!
What we are left with then is a movie that says nothing much more than “GO AMERICA!”, complete with slow-motion scenes of US soldiers incinerating their enemies with flame throwers, throwing explosives down tunnels, all to swelling orchestral music in the background. If that isn’t glorification of war, I don’t know what is.
Two beers out of a sixer.
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