I’m normally a fan of Mel Gibson’s movies. And Hacksaw Ridge is, while a bit formulaic, still largely successful as an example of the war-hero genre that has served Mr. Gibson well.
The real miracle in this film is not the real-life miracle; the survival under artillery fire of Medal-of-Honor recipient Desmond Doss while he rescued 75 wounded from behind enemy lines. To me, it is how those men fought on, through day and night, and never ran out of ammunition. In particular the “Sargent” character, played by Vince Vaughn, fights off the Japanese with his MP3 (aka Grease Gun), never running low on ammo. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall a single reload from anyone. I did notice a 1911 lock back at some point and that, sadly, resulted in its user’s quick death.
The incidents of firearms silliness are legion, but only one made me quite literally wince in pain. “Teach,” the well-read-soldier archetype, charges from his trench firing a Browning M1919 from a loose, off-hand stance, gripping the barrel to direct his fire. For you non-gun geeks, the M1919 is a tripod-mounted, belt-fed machine gun firing 30-06. The Spielberg/Hanks mini-series The Pacific actually used the consequences of grabbing a medium machine gun by the barrel as a plot point (hint, Medal of Honor winner John Basilone wrecks his hands in the process).
Looking at the overall story, part of the difficulty in making sense of the action is my “small world” problem. The battle in which Doss earned his Medal of Honor occurred over the course of three weeks. In the film, it is three days. And while the commanding colonel says that “several battalions” were lost in the fighting, we focus on the action of a particular company, which is represented by roughly a platoon-sized group of men. If one imagines the battlefield solely as portrayed on screen, much of the subsequent action becomes impossible.
All that aside, Doss’ son has praised the movie for its fidelity to Doss’ story, and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt in this respect. I also like Vince Vaughn as an actor, so again, I try not to be completely negative on this production. It has its moments, but there are movies these days that are working hard to get the technical details right, and I think Mel could have risen to this occasion.
One other thing struck me while watching the portrayals of combat; the hyper-realism that is popular in war movies these days. I predict that a few years from now, this is going to be what gives today’s movies that “dated” look from the two-thousand-teens.