It seems fitting that Mel Gibson, a man who knows a few things about cinematic battlefields, has chosen to turn the extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss — the WWII medic and self-proclaimed pacifist who won a Medal of Honor without ever laying his hands on a weapon — into a movie. What’s less expected is how much it feels like two: a folksy, golden-tinged first half detailing Doss’ rural Virginia childhood, his chaste romance with a pretty nurse (Teresa Palmer), and the struggle to maintain his Seventh-day Adventist faith in the face of combat, and a brutal second hour that plunges viewers directly into the visceral hell mouth of Hacksaw, a key flash point in the fight against Japanese troops.
The latter — a bone-rattling shock-and-awe of blasted limbs and spilled intestines — is infinitely more affecting than the former, even as it skirts the edge of exploitation. (It doesn’t help that most characters feel stock, including the saintly, aw-shucks Desmond.) Comparisons are already being made to American Sniper, another treatise on the trade-off between a war hero’s glory and what it costs his soul. But despite its promise, Hacksaw never really delves into the moral grays; it’s just black and white and red all over. B