Welcome back to director Mel Gibson. It has been ten years since he last directed a film and boy did he pick a great story for his return.
Desmond Doss grows up in a home with an alcoholic father whose experiences in WWI haunt both him and his household. Thanks to his religious beliefs and a few personal experiences including a confrontation with his own father, Desmond is adamantly opposed to violence.These views are severely challenged when he joins the army as a “conscientious co-operator”. He feels compelled to be a part of the war, but refuses to carry a weapon. As a medic he wants to help save lives, but the Army does not know what to do with a soldier who won’t even touch a gun. Desmond faces mockery and extreme peer pressure from the men in his company and his commanders for his convictions, but he refuses to compromise.
Eventually, he is shipped with the rest of his company to Okinawa to participate in a bloody, difficult battle against the Japanese which has already claimed mass casualties. Doss’ convictions and true strength are tested during this battle and his actions will show his men what he is made of.
This is just the kind of story I love, one which portrays the heroism and courage of an ordinary man against all odds. Mel Gibson has never shied away from graphic violence and he certainly doesn’t sanitize the cruelty of war. For this reason, this film was hard for me to watch, because the reality of war and its’ brutality is on full display. Yet, it is in the worst of circumstances that true heroes manifest themselves. Desmond Doss’ courage and commitment to his beliefs has stuck with me in the days since I watched this film. Despite all the challenges and difficulties presented not only by war, but by his fellow soldiers he never compromises and keeps his promise to save lives including those of his enemies. His grit, determination and honor are inspiring and a true testimony to how one person can make an enormous difference.
Andrew Garfield does an amazing job as Desmond Doss. He doesn’t just play Doss, but becomes him. He is a man of faith and gentleness, yet stubborn strength and rebellion against the status quo. The other actors are also very well cast and I particularly enjoyed Vince Vaughn as Doss’ direct superior Sgt. Howell who manages to provide this serious film with its’ few moments of levity. In fact, my favorite scene of the whole film has both Garfield and Vaughn in what I call the magic carpet ride. It’s pretty awesome.
If you aren’t disturbed by graphic war violence I would encourage you to watch this film. I am betting that the story of Desmond Doss will inspire you like it has me.