Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains where he was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist. Devoutly religious, he followed his faith’s literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments, including the Fifth one’s dictate that “Thou shalt not kill.” So, when he rushed to enlist in the Army right after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, he did so as a conscientious objector.
However, because he was unwilling to touch, let alone carry a weapon, Desmond was teased mercilessly by other members of his platoon. In fact, he was not only beaten by a bully (Luke Bracey), but was also court-martialed for failing to complete the weapons part of basic training.
However, the military tribunal ruled in Desmond’s favor after his World War I veteran father (Hugo Weaving) testified on his behalf. Still, his fellow G.I.s were reluctant to accept a comrade whom they thought was a coward, since they had just been taught by their Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) that a unit was no stronger than its weakest link.
Nevertheless, Desmond was commissioned as a medic with the 307th Infantry with whom he would more than prove his mettle on the island of Okinawa in the bloodiest battle of World War II. He exhibited extraordinary courage during a month spent dodging bullets and bombs in order to attend to the wounded during the siege of Hacksaw Ridge.
Desmond would save the lives of 75 soldiers and his selfless exploits were ultimately appreciated by both his fellow unit members and the Pentagon. The heroic medic eventually became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
All of the above is recounted in riveting fashion in Hacksaw Ridge, a biopic directed by Mel Gibson. Fair warning: the film features graphic battlefield scenes similar to the gory D-Day reenactments seen in Saving Private Ryan (1998).
In addition to the gruesome war scenes, the film has flashbacks that describe Desmond’s formative years, including his romance with Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), the pretty nurse he fell in love with and married shortly before shipping out for the Pacific Theater.
The film closes with archival newsreels and stills of the real-life Desmond and Dorothy. The movie is a moving portrait of a war hero who made a significant contribution to the war effort without ever using a weapon.
Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic violence, gruesome images, and ethnic slurs. Running time: 131 minutes. Distributor: Summit Entertainment.