Tuesday, 28 March 2017

LAST NIGHT'S FILM: HACKSAW RIDGE [2016]

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I've took to talking about movies every week during mine and Nico's radio show as we broadcast on Facebook live. A friend of mine commented on the feed and recommended this to me. I don't know how it had gone under my radar previously, but it completely had. Andrew Garfield was cast as the lead. He's been good value for a while now, one of Hollywoods brighter new stars. Mel Gibson also directed the movie.

The film is pretty much a biopic of Desmond Doss's early life and service to the Army during WWII. His wikipedia page explains his heroics best: After distinguishing himself in the Battle of Okinawa, he became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honour for actions above and beyond the call of duty. He is also the only conscientious objector to receive the medal during World War II.

Now I didn't know what a 'conscientious objector' was. Apparently it is 'an individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.' In this case Doss exercised his right not to have anything to do with firearms, from basic training right through to holding one on the battle field. He aspired to be a medic with the ethos that he was going to serve his country but aim to save his countrymen's lives rather than take others. As you can imagine that didn't go down so smoothly with fellow servicemen and superiors in the 1940s and the film shows his struggle during his training. It's safe to say his platoon and superiors make it very clear how they felt about his defiance.

The film was completely gripping. Not only was it fascinating to look at the life of this interesting man, but it had all the elements a good war film should have. In places it was brutal, bleak and heavy looking at the role of a medic on the front line, as well as thought provoking and dark when exploring Desmond's complex relationship with his abusive father and which incidents in his younger life lead up to him refusing to bear arms. His father features heavily through out as a drunk, abusive ex serviceman. An interesting look into the mindset of your typical American 920s/40s husband and father. All of the main characters were thick with dimensions and seemed real. They were not in the story to serve one purpose, you seen a few different sides of each of them.

When the soldiers arrive on the front line around halfway through the movie they're met with the bleak reality of war. They're heading into the fog stepping over rotting bodies and limbs as rats scuttle about. Stuff I've never really seen in a war movie before but stuff that obviously gets seen on the front line. It was gory and didn't hide anything. The battle scenes are harrowing and intense, fast and frantic. As ever with the best war movies mind is paid to the mental health and the mindset of the platoon making for some really interesting scenes. There are scenes of complete chaos when Japanese soldiers appear through the smoke and a hand to hand battle takes place. It looked fucking scary.

The crunch gets crunchier when Desmond stays behind alone after an air strike and the withdrawal of what's left of his platoon. with what his wife describes best as 'pride and stubbornness' he works through the night tirelessly rescuing wounded soldiers and lowering them to safety down a cliff to the barracks. This really happened, he saved 75 men that night. This guys spirit is insane and they did a real good job translating it on the big screen.

The film was flawless up until the final battle scene where it all gets a bit action-movie-esque for my taste. Halfway through a scene Doss is swatting away a grenade with one hand as he volleys another back at the Japanese. I guess when making a WWII movie you have to tickle the bollocks of the veterans who will inevitably watch it, but in that instance it went from a far fetched but true tale of one mans heroics for his fellow man to a vapid Hollywood action movie that happens to be based on a true story. While I wish they never put that scene in I couldn't help but think it might be a nod to the traditional war movie style. Cinematically the film was superb, but the (surely intentionally) obvious use of green screen at times struck me as another nod to the traditional style. I'm left undecided but given how good the rest of the film was I can't see that there would be this one stinking scene in there for no reason.

All in all it was a great watch that I didn't know much about going in but thoroughly enjoyed. Hacksaw Ridge is a welcome late edition to the never ending 'greatest war movie of all time' royal rumble style discussion. It covered all the aspects you'd expect it to and still told a really remarkable story. A nice touch was a cut to archive footage of interviews and tributes of and to Desmond Doss. If you've not watched the movie, do. If you have, read his wikipedia page here.




1 comment:

Allen Roy said...

Doss stepped on a grenade and saved lives of others in the fox hole. He got dozens of shrapnel in legs and body. The story has him kicking it away. So it really happened.