War film surprisingly psychological

Matt Ellis, Associate Editor

Naïve soldiers advance slowly into desolate oblivion. Low hanging fog masks the omnipotent adversary lying confidently ahead. Suddenly, the already brimmed graveyard erupts in a barrage of bullets and mortar shells, dismantling the recently assembled army. Troops scatter and dive for coverage, unable to comprehend that their brothers of the past month has just been taken down by a bullet that amounted from thin air. Not able to move, the dumbfounded soldier cannot even process the orders of his commanding officer, even though he stands feet away.

Best director nominee Mel Gibson’s first war scene in his best picture nominated film illustrates the stunning reality of war in the same way Steven Spielberg did in the opening Omaha Beach scene in “Saving Private Ryan.”

War scenes, however, really only make up the second half of this movie. The first weaves together the initially troublesome childhood of a young Desmond Doss (Darcy Bryce) and the religious Good Samaritan he becomes as a young adult, played by best actor nominee Andrew Garfield.

This establishes his selfless character, one that calls him to serve in the war in any way he can. As a Seventh Day Advocate, Doss’s literal interpretation of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” not only prohibits him from killing in war, but also from even touching a gun.

Garfield delivers a masterful performance, encompassing the mental fortitude that Doss maintained throughout arguments with his father Tom, played by a beautifully unstable Hugo Weaving, vocal barrages from his drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn), and artillery assaults from Japanese soldiers. His willingness to venture so close to death without protection and against commanding orders allows you to further appreciate this true story.

Garfield and Weaving combine to skillfully accomplish multiple emotional scenes that show the other, psychological side of war. Weaving clearly demonstrates the hardships of living with post-traumatic stress disorder as he constantly mourns the loss of his three friends in World War I, turning to alcohol and aggression to relieve his grief. Once his motivated son decides that he needs to serve, a trembling, sobbing Weaving strains to keep him from making his same mistake of serving. This scene tears down the wall Weaving had built around himself and unveils a vulnerable side of his personality, adding depth and relatability to a phenomenal character.

Another pleasant surprise of the film was Vince Vaughn. As unusual as it was to see Vaughn in a drama rather than a comedy, he did a nice job balancing the fierce personality necessary in a drill sergeant with an accepting one needed to survive during wartime. I would have liked a more intimidating character out of him, but a slightly comedic yet serious drill sergeant sufficed.

For a movie about a conscientious objector, the violence in the second half of this movie is pretty unbelievable. However violent they were, the visual graphics and audio from the scenes were terrific, garnering Oscar nominations for best film editing, sound editing and sound mixing.

As disappointed as I was to not see Weaving on the ballot for best supporting actor, the powerful film captured the harsh truth about war and the tribulations endured by the inspirational Desmond Doss.
The movie debuted on Nov. 2, and although you can’t see it in theatres, it is available for purchase from Amazon Video or iTunes.