Script-O-Meter: 7 Stars
Drama/War epic/Memoir-True Story
WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.
As in the Memoir/True Story methodology of telling a historical epic, the first sequence of the story deals with the Climax/Battle Story Beat in which all hell has broken loose in the throes of horrendous death and destruction during the Pacific theater of WWII. There is a narrator, who is Desmond Doss as we later learn.
We then are taken into a time jump: 15 years earlier. We see the Hero as a boy and we learn about his flaws: He is in an abusive household with an alcoholic father who beats his mother and there is habitual chaos. He has a brother; the father has what would later be called PTSD from his years in WWI. Desmond gets into fights with his brother and he has an issue with the use of firearms. This then, is the set-up for the Hero’s anathema for weapons of any kind.
The Inciting Incident is when the Hero sets eyes on his “love interest,” who will be the woman he marries. If this were a Romance genre, then the “meet cute” and “gaze” moments would be the set-up for continuing conflict within the genre beats of Romance. However, this is not a Romance story, per se, even though there are romantic elements within the plot.
With this in mind, the only problem in the script comes in Act 1. After the Hero meets his future wife, their courtship ensues. More drama from the abusive household. We see the Hero’s capabilities with saving a victim of a vehicular accident. More household drama. His younger brother enlists in the war. This is where the story slows down to a pace that gets the audience off track. The reason is that this is not a Romance genre – This is a Drama/War/historical epic story with elements of Romance.
So, in Act 1, Sequence 2, instead of weighing the audience down with repeated scenes of the father’s abuse, the moment of the younger brother’s enlistment would have been the perfect opportunity to show the Hero’s distaste for weapons of any kind. It could have been the moment to show his friends enlisting; he later speaks about 2 boys in the town who committed suicide because they were found unfit to serve – another opportunity to have shown this to the audience. “Show don’t tell” is much more captivating and visceral.
Therefore, the writer had a quandary of going off into a branching form in Act I, which does not fit in a war/historical epic/action film. The Romance was the basis for the Hero’s actions, plus his belief in conscientious objection. But the story slows down in the beginning and the audience shifts in their seats because of the branching form and unnecessary repetition with the Drama in the family background (the Hero’s Ghost).
Additionally, in Act 1, the writer needed to show the father as one of the Opponents. The deeply flawed man will later prove to be a false opponent/ally. This is nicely set-up. But a linear form would have increased the Narrative Drive, and the ongoing revelations about the Hero’s refusal to use a weapon in the face of worldwide evil and war would have set up the intense, well-calibrated, gripping portraits of wartime in the Pacific theater, in Okinawa, the bloodiest battle for the Americans in the entire war.
In Act 1, Sequence 2 and 3, with the knowledge of the Hero’s quandary- his desire to serve his country, but his loathsome feeling about the use of weapons; his 7th Day Adventist observances, etc.- All of this would have served to show the horrifying paradox of this type of soldier serving in the bloodiest battle of WWII.
Act 2 and 3 do focus on the Hero’s flaws and how he deals with them. The plot is beautifully organic, as we see the gradual evolution of the supporting characters and their ultimate relationship with the Hero, and their Self-Revelations. The Hero’s character arc is nothing short of sensational.
In Act 2 and 3, the concept of sacrifice and honor being able to be achieved without a weapon in the midst of a bloody battle is beautifully written in this script. The Opponents in the military have a Self-Revelation in the Climax/Battle sequence. This is the sign of great script writing. The father has a powerful moral epiphany moment; The Japanese being the evil oppressor and heartless and filled with ruthless trickery – All of these clichés are left aside except for the Climax/Battle sequence in which they are shown to be an enemy that not only did not believe in surrender, but did not honor the convention of “giving up” – even though they did honor the convention of taking their own lives, true to the Samurai tradition.
In Memoir/True Story Methodology, the New Equilibrium or final sequence of the script is when the real Mr. Doss, who has since passed away, speaks. In addition, other WWII veterans speak. This film was beautifully respectful to the veterans of the wars. WWII, having been called the Great Generation of men and women is evoked in a powerful way in this film. It is an earned respect, rather than a jingoistic song.
The Premise of the story is not Romance that is interrupted by a World War. Therefore, it is always incumbent upon a screenplay writer to go back to the Premise and remember what the Designing Principle or seed of the story is really about: A man who sticks to his core beliefs against all odds can be heroic and courageous and achieve great heights by giving to others in sacrifice. That is a final reason for why Act 1 lagged in this overall great movie – The writer went on a tangent and the Narrative Drive slowed – Fortunately, all was saved in Act 2 and 3.