Military films do not generally peak my interest. To date, I have never even seen “Saving Private Ryan.” “Hacksaw Ridge,” however, stands out for its unusual premise: a soldier who will not touch a gun. Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, who comes from a military family. His older brother enlisted before him and his father fought in the first world war. His father, having experienced the horrors of trench warfare firsthand, demands that his sons stay home. But there is no dissuading Desmond, who experiences patriotic duty with a religious commitment.
The army’s response to his refusal to touch a gun is predictable. They try to force him out of basic training with threats, ill treatment and violence. He withstands it all, and is court martialed for his trouble. Only the last minute intervention of a brigadier general saves him from spending the war in a cell.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is based on real events, so it is no spoiler to say Desmond single handedly saves the lives of 75 of his company men after a desperate battle fought over the eponymous ridge. He is sent home with an injury soon after, and was awarded a medal of honor for his bravery.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is charming and heartfelt, with clever dialogue and a fitting cast of characters. If it were a fictional tale, it would be almost too incredible to believe, as Desmond’s heroism and endurance approaches the superhuman. The manner in which he alone rescues seventy-five men from an active battlefield was even more dangerous and physically taxing than I had imagined it to be.
Vince Vaughn plays the role of the drill sergeant, adding his own brand of humor and keeping the film from becoming too serious. He and Andrew Garfield have fun exchanges that might have come across as forced with another pairing.
As much as I enjoyed the movie, a part of my mind could not help but question how it all came to be. Desmond enlisted and was registered as a conscientious objector. Why would a conscientious objector be allowed to enlist in a combat regiment? Once he was there, and he persisted in refusing to touch a gun, why was he not simply transferred to another unit where he could serve without being expected to go into combat?
There was no need for the abuse or the legal action. His right to object does not mean he has a right to serve in any unit he wants. Being unable to touch a gun should have immediately disqualified him from going into combat. Apparently, this really happened, but it should not have. Yes, there was a miracle, but miracles do not make for good policy. His presence in that unit was a liability. I am baffled by the bureaucratic incompetence that allowed all of this to happen as much as I am amazed by Desmond’s heroic effort to save lives. If everyone had been doing their jobs, there would have never been a tale to tell about “Hacksaw Ridge.”
Categories: Arts & Entertainment