Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. Australia/USA, 2016. Cross Creek Pictures, Demarest Films, Pandemonium, Permut Presentations, Vendian Entertainment. Screenplay by Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight. Cinematography by Simon Duggan. Produced by Terry Benedict, Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, William D. Johnson, Bill Mechanic, Brian Oliver, David Permut. Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Production Design by Barry Robison. Costume Design by Lizzy Gardiner. Film Editing by John Gilbert. Academy Awards 2016. Golden Globe Awards 2016.
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) does not want to stay home when all his friends are leaving to fight in World War II, but enlistment is also a problem for a man who has vowed, thanks to the violence he witnessed in childhood, to never pick up a weapon for the purpose of harming another human being. Doss joins the army under the impression that he will be trained as a medic, but ends up in boot camp with harsh Vince Vaughn and is put through quite the initiation process before his desire to remain non-violent is respected. Based on a true story, Doss eventually proves his mettle when at the Battle of Okinawa he rescues seventy-five men left for dead on the battlefield, eventually becoming the first Conscientious Objector to receive the Medal of Honour. The irony of a self-described Christian nation looking down on a man whose Christianity compels him to refuse to fight is not lost on Mel Gibson, who makes his noblest and most emotionally reserved film yet with this moving biopic; less ironic and more surprising is that his lead character is a pacifist and Gibson, who shamed anti-Vietnam sentiment in The Man Without a Face, respects his protagonist’s sticking to his principles. It’s a modern Sergeant York with less hypocrisy (the sweet man at the centre doesn’t abandon his beliefs just ’cause, though he does work a bit around them), with all the brutal violence that the filmmaker has already proven himself adept at handling in his previous films. Garfield impressively manages to keep our emotional focus in the second half, where technology goes insane on the battlefield, but the first half, focusing on Doss’s home life and training days, is hard to swallow thanks to Australian locations poorly filling in for the American south; the cast of Aussie actors do great accent work but so much of it still looks more like Breaker Morant than Full Metal Jacket.