For whatever reasons, World War II movies on ground combat in the Pacific Theater lag well behind their ETO (European Theater of Operations) counterparts in popularity and impact. There were a couple of early notable ones to be sure, like ‘The Sands of Iwo Jima’ and ‘Halls of Montezuma,’ but it wasn’t until Clint Eastwood’s ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ in 2006 that managed to give audiences something good after such misfires as ‘Windtalkers’ and ‘The Thin Red Line.’ However, that film told the story strictly from the Japanese perspective.
Mel Gibson’s latest directorial feature, a remarkable and faithful (in more ways than one) biopic on the life of Private First Class Desmond T. Doss, finally gave us a “grunt movie” set in the island-hopping campaign of the Pacific worth gushing about. You may have seen the trailer of ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ but are debating whether to see the movie or not because you suspect Gibson may have gone cuckoo for cocoa puffs. I don't blame you because that too has crossed my mind. But let me assure you that he is back in top form and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ represents his best directorial effort since ‘Apocalypto’ and perhaps even ‘Braveheart.’ Imparting Doss with a certain small town country boy charm, Andrew Garfield delivered his best performance yet as the medic who was awarded a Medal of Honor for saving numerous lives during the pivotal battle on Okinawa despite being labeled a coward because he refused to carry a weapon into battle. Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths were also great as Doss’s deeply religious but dysfunctional parents, but my favorite character in the movie is arguably Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), whose most memorable contribution in the movie isn’t training the raw recruits or even leading them into battle himself but making us laugh our asses off.
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ doesn’t sugarcoat the horrors of war or pull any punches in its depiction of war as a brutal and gory hell-on-earth, but as a biopic it is a powerful and inspirational portrait of courage under fire and selfless sacrifice as well as the convictions of one's deeply held religious beliefs. Hallelujah, the “lesser” theater has finally found its own ‘Saving Private Ryan.’