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Stars: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, Rachel Griffiths, Sean Lynch, Firass Dirani, Luke Bracey, Luke Pegler
Director: Mel Gibson
One of the best close-combat sequences ever shot is at the heart of Mel Gibson's second war film, to follow We Were Soldiers, but this one set in the 1940s. The 65-minutes of drama that precede the battle, however, are less distinguished, though quite watchable.
Garfield gives his best screen performance to date as Desmond Doss, a Virginia backwoods boy with an alcoholic father (Weaving, overdoing it), bitter at the death of so many friends in World War I, and a careworn mother (Griffiths).
Forever fighting with his brother, Desmond forswears violence after having to take a gun from his father in a fight with his mom.
Come World War II and, despite being a conscientious objector and a 7th Day Adventist, and having found the girl of his dreams (Palmer), Desmond follows his brother in volunteering for the army, where he hopes to become an unarmed medic.
Although he excels in training, the boy from Virginia is also bullied and beaten for his beliefs, then court-martialled for refusing to bear arms. His captain (Worthington) and sergeant (Vaughn) are desperate for him to be kicked out of the army, but he's reprieved after an 11th-hour intervention by his father, and shipped off with the rest of the company to the Far East and the Japanese-held island of Okinawa.
Naturally, this being a true story, Doss proves his worth in the title battle, in which Gibson plunges us right into the visceral heart of the action, with all its severed limbs, spilled guts and shattered heads. The whiff of death may be everywhere, but the action is fast, furious and brilliantly edited: the smoke and blood are tangible.
Garfield gets good support all round, especially from Worthington, Vaughn (odd casting but it works) and Bracey as the soldier who initially hates Doss but later comes to admire him.
Australia/USA 2016. UK Distributor: LionsGate. Colour (unspecified).
139 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.
Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.
Review date: 22 Jan 2017