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Hacksaw Ridge (2016)  —  movie review
WAAAYYY back in August 2016, I wrote a post about a documentary, a movie preview (“trailer”), and a few comments on something I’d discovered on YouTube which I then called “trailer reviews”.  Here is a link to that post for anyone who would like to read my earlier post:  https://kmabarrett.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/conscientious-courage/
At any rate, the movie came out and, for whatever reason, I never have reviewed it.  This post corrects that mistake.  (My earlier post was about the documentary / subject of the movie and not on the actual movie.)
The film is a typically formatted two-part military tale focusing on the World War II training (pre-military life / boot camp), and then, (actual) combat experiences of Desmond Doss, a combat medic who was a pacifist / Seventh-day Adventist Christian, who refused to touch, carry or use a firearm or weapon of any kind. Doss became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The medal was for service above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Okinawa (April to June 1945).  It should be mentioned, the movie implies the battle shown was a few days / nights long.  In fact, it (the battle shown) lasted a couple of weeks and the battle for the island several months.  Also, Doss received medals for two acts of courage in combat (on two other islands) which preceded this battle on Okinawa, so his courage was already known by his fellow soldiers before the events depicted in this movie.
Andrew Garfield stars as Doss, and Hugo Weaving (Mr. Smith from the Matrix movies) as his father, with Sam Worthington (the blue guy in “Avatar”) as Doss’ company commander and Vince Vaughn as his drill instructor and platoon sergeant.  The film received six Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Garfield and Best Sound Editing, and winning the awards for Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing.
First we are introduced to Doss as a child and learn about his desire to be a doctor.  We also meet his girlfriend and future wife.  (Normally, I would describe all of this as “Blah, blah, blah…”, but in this movie, the background really is important to the story – imagine that!)  Doss joins the Army and is placed under the training of Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn, who is surprisingly good in this wise-cracking, but non-comedic role).  Despite being skinny, Doss excels physically but is cast as a coward to his platoon for refusing to handle a rifle and train on Saturdays.  Howell and Captain Glover (Worthington, who looks surprisingly old in this role) attempt to discharge Doss for psychiatric reasons but are overruled, as Doss’ religious beliefs do not qualify as a mental illness.  So, instead, they try to make life hard on Doss.  One night, Doss is beaten by some of the members of his own platoon, but Doss refuses to identify his attackers and completes his training.
Doss intends to marry Dorothy (his girlfriend played by Teresa Palmer), but his refusal to carry a firearm leads to an arrest for failing to follow a direct order by a commanding officer.  At his trial, Doss pleads not guilty, but before he is sentenced, his father barges into the tribunal with a letter from a former commanding officer (of the father) stating that his son’s pacifism is protected by an Act of Congress.  The charges against Doss are dropped, and he and Dorothy are married.
Doss’ unit is deployed to the Pacific theater, and during the Battle of Okinawa, Doss’ unit is told that they have to climb and secure the Maeda Escarpment (“Hacksaw Ridge”).  In the initial fight, Doss saves several wounded soldiers.  The platoon camps for the night, which Doss spends in a foxhole with Smitty (played by Luke Bracey), who was the first squad-mate to call Doss a coward back in his training platoon days.  Doss tells Smitty his refusal to carry a rifle comes from nearly shooting his drunken father, who threatened his mother with a pistol.  Smitty apologizes for doubting his courage and the two reconcile.  This last is definitely meant to create a “heart-felt” moment and my immediate reaction was: this guy is either going to be a friend for life or he’s going to be a “redshirt” (LOL – StarTrek TOS reference for you nerds out there).
The next day, the Japanese launch a massive counterattack and drive the Americans off the escarpment.  Smitty is killed (ha! a redshirt), while Howell and several of Doss’ squad mates are left injured on the battlefield.  Doss hears the cries of the wounded and dying soldiers and goes back to save them, carrying the wounded to the cliff’s edge and belaying them each down the cliff face by rope, each time praying to save just one more.  The arrival of dozens of wounded once presumed dead comes as a shock to the rest of the unit below.  When day breaks, Doss rescues Sergeant Howell and the two escape over the cliff while under enemy fire. Just a historical note on the escarpment / cliff face.  The escarpment is actually about a 300-400 foot “overall” rise which is topped by the last 30 to 40 feet of sheer cliff.  This last bit – the cliff face – is given a bit of dramatic enhancement by the film’s director (Mel Gibson) who makes the last bit seem like the whole thing.
Captain Glover tells Doss that the men have been inspired by his courage and faith, and that they will not launch the next attack without him.  With new reinforcements, they win the battle.  When some Japanese soldiers fake surrender, Doss saves Captain Glover and others by slapping and then kicking (nice Spidey move) enemy grenades.  Doss is wounded in the leg by the kicked grenades blast, and Doss descends the cliff, holding the Bible his wife gave him.
The film switches to archival photos and footage from the documentary to show Doss receiving his Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman for rescuing the 75 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge.  The notes state Doss stayed married to Dorothy until her death in 1991, and, that he died on March 23, 2006, at the age of 87.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, his fellow soldiers reported Doss saved over 100 men.  Doss estimated he “helped” 50.  His CMoH split the difference an said “75”!!!
So, what did I think? You gotta be kiddin’ me! I loved the documentary; I cried during the preview (okay, maybe I just welled up a bit); and, I loved the movie (and, yes, I did cry)!!  This is not a movie about war – which is what I originally thought it was going to be about.  This is a movie about the human spirit, faith and courage.  Needless to say – final recommendation: very highly recommended.  One note of caution: like several of Gibson’s movies, this one is graphic in the display of violence and in the horrors of war.  As such, it is not appropriate for the very young or the squeamish.
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First off, Happy Easter to all.  Christ is risen!!
I’ve been off work a few days this week with a viral infection in my throat which has made it very difficult to swallow (and sometimes breathe).  The result is that I’ve had some time (between sleeping) to watch a few movies.  Normally when I’m off work, I like to read, but I’ve found when I’m ill I can’t really concentrate enough to make reading enjoyable.  Anyway, the three movies I’ve watched are: “2012” (a disaster epic from 2010), “The Departed” (an undercover cop movie from 2006), and “Star Knight” (a science fiction / history – “They’ve visited us” – movie from 1985).
The first movie, “2012” was a very enjoyable disaster epic with fairly spectacular special effects (and some banal ones as well).  The acting is so-so, but the effects make the movie.  The best acting in the movie is done by Woody Harrelson – who I normally don’t care for mainly for his choice of roles.  In this movie, he is the predictor of the disaster, comes across as believably paranoid / crazy and is genuinely great in the role.  I guess I like him as crazy but not dark.  This was the third time I’ve seen this movie.  The first was at the theater, where the big screen made the SFX look fantastic (particularly Los Angeles sliding into the Pacific and the destruction of Yellowstone).  The second time I watched it was after the DVD came out and I watched it on my TV at home.  To be honest, the movie did not carry over well from the big screen to the home viewing.  I have a 48 inch hi-def screen, but a lot of the smaller SFX details did not come across when viewed from 8 to 10 feet away.  In contrast, this third viewing was on my 32 inch flat-panel connected to my PC and viewed from about 2 to 3 feet away, and it was terrific.  It didn’t make the movie better, but it made the viewing better.  I’ve noticed a similar viewing effect when I’ve watched some other films – most notably, “Avatar“.  So my recommendation is this is a very entertaining SFX disaster movie, but see it on as big a screen as you can and sit as close as you can.  Recommended.
The second movie, “The Departed” is a police / mob undercover movie with a number of major young(-ish) movie stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg and some oldie but goodies Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin.  The movie is set in Boston and the main conflict is between good mole (DiCaprio) in the mob and bad mole (Damon) in the police.  The movie is very well done as characters, plot and pace go.  I had some minor problems with the poor use of technology, but all in all it was a terrific movie.  I can’t honestly say it’s appropriate for everyone to view as there is a considerable amount of foul language, so there are age and sensitivity issues for the viewing audience.  Other than that, highly recommended!  Oh, and a shout out to my daughter Rebecca for recommending this to me.
The third movie, “Star Knight” is an alien visits earth in the middle-ages movie.  It was done in the mid 1980’s so there has to be some allowance for the SFX – which for that period are actually pretty good.  The movie, however is terrible!!  The best thing about this movie is it is only 91 minutes long, so you’re not wasting 92 minutes of your life.  There are a few movies I will see just because the actors in the films are known quantities and are predictors of quality.  The movie they are in may not be great, but almost without exception, their role is outstanding.  Among these are actors like: Bogie, Hepburn, Tracy (from the oldies) and Nicholson, Streep and (my personal favorite) Duvall.  There are some younger actors emerging though who I think will one day be in a similar category.  I like Damon, Wahlberg and DiCaprio.  Of these three, I must admit, Wahlberg seems to have the most limited range of characters.  DiCaprio is the most recent addition to my list.  I have seen very little of his work and did not enjoy him or the movies I saw him in early: “Titanic” and “The Quick and the Dead“.  Anyway, last year I thoroughly enjoyed him in “Inception” and I think he was also exceptional in the movie just above (“The Departed“).  Well, (that’s a long way to get to here), one of my other all-time favorite actors has been Harvey Keitel.  Again, I have not always liked the movies he was in, but I always liked him.  This movie is definitely the exception.  He is bad and the movie is terrible.  In fairness to Harvey, the movie, a Spanish film originally called: “El caballero del dragon (The Knight of the Dragon)“, was on sale for $4 and it had a pretty good DVD jacket and blurb on the back, but I bought it on the strength of his name.  As stated previously, this was both a waste of time and money.  I am hoping Keitel did this as bad camp, because it is almost – but not quite – so bad it is funny.  There is a vague nod to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (I hope that is what it is) in one scene, but even as camp, the movie fails.  I guess even the best actors will take any role just to stay active.  Sorry Harvey…  This is among the worst movies I have EVER seen.  Frankly, I don’t even have another movie to compare it to because I’ve blotted them out of my memory, too.
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