NEW ORLEANS, Oct 28, (Agencies): When Desmond Doss climbed up Hacksaw Ridge — a 400-foot high escarpment on the island of Okinawa with a wall of dug-in Japanese soldiers at the top — he carried his Bible, his combat medic supplies and the weight of his moral convictions, but no weapon.
When the wounded American Army private eventually came back down for good, he was credited with repeatedly braving harsh enemy fire to treat fellow troops, carry them to the cliff’s edge and lower them to safety. For his heroics, he was awarded the Medal of Honor — a rarity for a conscientious objector.
Now his exploits on Okinawa and his struggles to serve both his country and his conscience have been made into a film, “Hacksaw Ridge,” directed by Mel Gibson. For Gibson, telling the story of a man whose Medal of Honor citation goes on for two full pages and includes a wounded Doss giving up his stretcher to another wounded man, the challenge was almost having too heroic of a story to work with.
“You couldn’t even tell everything the guy did because it becomes almost unbelievable,” said Gibson, speaking Wednesday before a screening at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. “You’re talking about a man here who really stuck by his conviction and his faith and he went into a situation like hell on earth, an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things.”
Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist, felt his beliefs barred him from even carrying a weapon, let alone killing. But he wanted to serve his country and ended up in a combat infantry unit, tending to the wounded under some of the war’s most dangerous conditions. The movie details how his fellow troops — initially extremely suspicious of Doss — came to admire his moral and physical courage.
In Europe, the war with Germany was all but over when Doss’ unit arrived on Okinawa in late April. But in the Pacific, it was a bloody slog against the Japanese to capture island after island.
His unit was trying to take Hacksaw Ridge — formally called the Maeda Escarpment — and push out dug in Japanese troops. Doss’ Medal of Honor citation describes how his unit was driven back down the cliff by a barrage of mortar, artillery and machine gun fire but Doss voluntarily stayed behind, evacuating the wounded by rope over the cliff, all under intense enemy fire.
While the movie focuses mostly on that one event where Doss is credited with rescuing 75, the citation notes how he repeatedly risked his life until he was wounded nearly a month later.
For Gibson, another challenge was making the movie realistic without being ghoulish.
Referring to the audience, he said: “I don’t want them running out screaming. You want them to stay in there with you, so you have to find a way to temper it, but keep it real.”
The title character of Desmond Doss is played by Andrew Garfield. Vince Vaughn plays the tough Sgt. Howell tasked with bringing the new recruits up to snuff and leading them into battle. As Gibson puts it: “This is not ‘Wedding Crashers Vince.’ This is ‘Sgt. Howell Vince.’ Different man, tougher.”
“It was nice to really just be in a movie that’s about something,” Vaughn said. “You don’t really get those a lot. I’ve made some really fun movies but it was definitely great for me to get a chance to work with such a great story teller as Mel and then also have a purpose behind the movie that’s actually about people and something that’s inspiring.”
One of Hollywood’s most bankable stars and a huge favorite among cinema-goers worldwide, Tom Hanks has appeared in some of the most successful and critically acclaimed movies of all time.
Among more than a dozen of his films that hold a rating of 90 percent or higher on the respected “Rotten Tomatoes” reviews aggregation website are such beloved titles as “Big”, “Apollo 13,” and all three parts of the “Toy Story” franchise.
With lifetime domestic takings of $4.4 billion for his films, only Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman have proved bigger box office draws than the double Oscar-winning 60-year-old.
And yet a small corner of his resume, perhaps lurking darkly in tiny print on the last page, serves as a reminder that no Hollywood star can be perfect — the critically despised “The Da Vinci Code” trilogy.
A full decade since he first portrayed novelist Dan Brown’s renowned Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon, Hanks makes a comeback on the big screen this weekend in “Inferno.”
Critics have voiced surprise at his continued commitment to the franchise, given that “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” were critically hated and boast 25 percent and 37 percent ratings respectively on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s not that he hasn’t appeared in turkeys before — “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “Larry Crowne” and “The ‘Burbs” were all derided — it’s just that when a Tom Hanks movie gets a hard time from the critics you don’t usually see him in a sequel, let alone two more films.
Shawn Robbins, a senior analyst at BoxOffice.com, points out that actors often choose to appear in films they know won’t be critical hits because of affection for the character or loyalty for the director.
“It’s probably both in this case given the well-known friendship between the two,” he told AFP.
Another factor in Hanks’ commitment to the franchise might be the fact that, regardless of what the critics think, these films are lapped up by the public.
“Inferno,” directed by Oscar-winning Ron Howard like its predecessors, is slated to top the North American box office this weekend, with takings expected to be somewhere around $25 million.
“The Da Vinci Code” remains one of the top ten hits of all time for Sony’s Columbia Pictures, raking in $758.2 million worldwide against a budget of $125 million.
The $150 million sequel, “Angels and Demons,” made less, grossing $486 million, but was still a commercial success by any yardstick.
Robbins also points out that while Rotten Tomatoes scores can affect the takings of some films, there is often a disconnect between what critics and audiences want from blockbusters.
“There’s a loyalty moviegoers take on when it comes to their favorite characters or franchises, and in this case it’s centered around a character with both literary and cinematic followings,” he said.
“That extends to actors and filmmakers just as well, and Mr Hanks is undoubtedly a prime example of someone that audiences simply find joy in watching.”
Although “Inferno” debuts this weekend in the United States, China and Japan — three of the world’s top five box offices — it has already been out in smaller markets and has a 23 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating based on 120 reviews.
“Senselessly frantic and altogether shallow, ‘Inferno’ sends the Robert Langdon trilogy spiraling to a convoluted new low,” the site’s critical consensus reads.
“It’s not only the character, there are moments when it’s hard not to feel that Hanks himself is confused as well, perhaps wondering ‘What the heck am I doing in this film? Haven’t I been here before?’” Kenneth Turan writes in the Los Angeles Times.
Hanks himself provided the answer when he told journalists at a red carpet screening of the movie in Los Angeles on Tuesday why he continues to enjoy playing Robert Langdon.
His explanation, which came across as almost apologetic, sounded like the plot of one of the Robert Langdon movies.
“Listen, I get to wake up in a place like Florence and I have a little cup of coffee and I walk to work across ancient bridges, underneath the fabulous architecture down through history, run around through masterpieces of modern art — all to save the world,” he said.
“Come on! That’s a good job!”