Hacksaw Ridge Premieres at the National WWII Museum

09:43 October 27, 2016
By: Fritz Esker

Hollywood stars mingled with WWII veterans and New Orleanians at the red carpet premiere of Mel Gibson’s new film, Hacksaw Ridge, at the WWII Museum’s Solomon Victory Theater on October 26.

Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson’s first directorial effort since Apocalypto in 2006, tells the real-life story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield). Doss became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. A devout Seventh Day Adventist, he refused to even carry a gun. He worked as a medic and it’s estimated he saved at least 75 lives in the Battle of Okinawa. The movie opens in theaters November 4th.

For producer Bill Mechanic, Doss’ story was a passion project that took 16 years to bring to the screen. He said Hollywood doubted the story’s ability to find an audience. There’s a faith-based component to the film, which studios thought would turn off some viewers. But there was also the intense violence of the combat scenes, which the studios felt would turn off viewers who’d be interested in the story’s religious components.

Gibson noted that Hollywood had been trying to turn Doss’ story into a movie since shortly after World War II. But Doss, who died in 2006, refused all efforts to make a film about his story for over 50 years.

“He was a very humble man,” Gibson said. “He wasn’t into standing on a soapbox and expounding his own virtues.”

As a director, Gibson has developed a penchant for visceral, large-scale action scenes in films like Braveheart (a Best Picture winner that also earned Gibson Best Director) and Apocalypto. He spoke briefly about the difficulties of conveying the arbitrary terrors of battle in a way that’s coherent to viewers.

“The biggest challenge is to keep the clarity of what’s going on and keep the narrative alive and at the same time make it look like complete and utter chaos,” Gibson said.

Most of the effects in the battle scenes were practical with minimal CGI used. Australian actor Luke Bracey plays Smitty, an initially antagonistic soldier who comes to respect Doss. He also spoke of the challenges in making things look and feel real to the audience.

“It is a bit scary,” Bracey said. “You’re running around on loose ground and diving around for 10 hours…It’s very easy (to get hurt) when everyone gets tired at the end of the day at the end of a long week and you’ve still got to get up every take and do it 110%…But the whole stunt crew and safety crew was top-notch.”

Gibson also discussed the difficulties of turning a true story into film. While many “based on a true story” films play very fast and loose with the facts, Gibson said Doss’ story was so compelling that most of Hacksaw Ridge happened as it did in real life. Sometimes, they had to leave out details of Doss’ service because they felt people would think it unrealistic.

“There’s a little stretch here and there, but not much…and it’s interesting to note that he did things that you can’t even put in movies because you wouldn’t believe it,” Gibson said.

One example of this is when the real life Doss was seriously injured and being evacuated on a stretcher. He saw another wounded man. Doss got off the stretcher, treated the man, then demanded the stretcher bearers take the other man instead. Doss then crawled several hundred yards to safety while injured and under fire and dragging a second injured soldier with him.

To prepare for the film, cast and crew spoke to people and veterans who knew Doss. Teresa Palmer, who plays Doss’ wife, said she read actual love letters the couple wrote to each other. She wasn’t able to meet their son, Desmond Jr., until shortly before the premiere.

“He came up to me and said ‘Hi, Mom,’” Palmer said. “He said I embodied his mother, which is the biggest compliment I could get.”

Desmond Doss, Jr., was in attendance at the premiere. He praised the film and believed his father would’ve enjoyed it, too.

“I can’t speak for him, but I can’t imagine he’d be anything less than totally pleased,” Doss said.

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