John Boy Goes to War – ★★
Mel Gibson is back behind the camera after ten years with his tale of a conscientious objector sent to Japan during World War II. Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss a Seventh-day Adventist who can’t sit still and watch his fellow man go off to war while he does nothing. So he enlists, adamant he will not hold or use a rifle to kill any other human being.
After many trials and tribulations he gets his wish and is sent off to war, no gun in hand. What lies in store is a hell on earth as the American forces try to capture the island of Okinawa. Under-resourced and no match for the fierce mentality of the Japanese soldier, they suffer heavy causalities and Desmond must keep his resolve and carry out his duty.
It takes approximately one hour and twenty minutes for the film to get to Hacksaw Ridge. Until then we are given the butter wouldn’t melt, Waltons version of 1940’s America. The only hint of menace is from Doss’s father played by Hugo Weaving, himself a veteran of WWI. Pops has turned to the bottle to cope with the horror of the trenches and is disgusted when both his sons enlist. We also see Doss’s whirlwind romance with a nurse that is non-existent for the second half of the picture having served its purpose.
The film is totally miscast with Vince Vaughn as a drill sergeant unable to muster any sense of credibility being just one example. We spend so much time setting up Doss’s home life and relationship that it leaves no time for getting to know his platoon. They all come across as two-dimensional caricatures from each American minority which makes it nigh on impossible to muster any real emotions as they get blown apart. The battle scenes are horrendous and gory to the point of being exploitative to the memories of those who died. As the film is in two parts there is no cohesion with plot or characters and it ends as abruptly as it starts. What the hell happened to his brother?
Desmond Doss certainly seemed like an amazing man with immense courage and resolve. Yet he is portrayed here as a dull as dishwater simpleton by Garfield. If you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen the film, minus the gore. The tale should have been a documentary… and it turns out it was back in 2004 called The Conscientious Objector.
This film yearns for a simpler time when Americans won wars, when your enemy was on a battlefield and a belief in a white Christian God was your salvation. Gibson should have stayed in front of the camera.
Opens Friday the 27th of January