Details: Released in 2016. Runs for about two hours and twenty minutes. Stars Andrew Garfield. Directed by Mel Gibson.
Gibson triumphantly returns with this World War II movie. The thing about WWII movies is that the best WWII scene has already been shot, and that is Spielberg’s Normandy beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. No other film has since come close and anyone who’s tried has come up short. In order to make another WWII movie that can hold a candle to Saving Private Ryan, a filmmaker would have to approach it an a new, unique perspective. That is exactly what Gibson does here.
The premise is this: Desmond Doss joins the army as a medic and a conscientious objector. Due to his religious beliefs, he will not hold a gun nor will he kill. Doss must overcome the disdain of his fellow soldiers as well as the horrors of war as he maintains his beliefs, no matter the danger.
It’s an incredible story made that much more incredible by the fact that it’s based off a true story. One thing I appreciated and which is lacking from many other films that are based off true stories is that at the end of the film, you get interviews from the people the characters were based off of and from Doss himself. The interviews compounded the emotional impact for me and gave me a greater appreciation of the film overall.
It’s just such a ridiculous tale that I think, without the real world scenes at the end of the movie, this story might just be too hard for the audience to buy into. Anyways, that’s enough about the real world aspects of this film.
The best performance here was obviously by Andrew Garfield, with Hugo Weaving in close second. They may have been able to find somebody better suited to be a drill sergeant, but Vince Vaughn does just fine.
The true star here is the directing. Gibson tells a great story that truly explores the key experiences that end up shaping a man like Desmond Doss. From childhood, to adulthood, Doss grows to become a man of faith and conviction. There are certainly the “horrors of war” scenes, as is necessary in a good war film. What sets this story apart is that it is told from the perspective of a pacifist, and yet Doss is a pacifist who recognizes the necessity of war. This is a story about a person who must reconcile his beliefs with the harshness of reality. It is about a person who decides that he will not back down or compromise, even if it costs him his life.
Part of my appreciation for this film comes from my own personal bias towards stories like this. I love stories where an underdog overcomes great tribulations, all in the pursuit of some ideal. This is exactly that kind of story. I certainly shed a tear at certain points when the opposition seemed strongest and Doss, even still, stuck to his convictions. I don’t cry for most kinds of tear jerking stories, but a person overcoming overwhelming odds in the name of his ideals, that just starts the waterworks.
Score: 8/10 A good movie that tells a decidedly different WWII story from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Gibson has told a story which needed to be told and I’m very glad he did.