In the backwoods of Tennessee, circa 1916, a sleepy little mountain town finds itself terrorized by a gang of rootin' tootin' miscreants led by the perpetually intoxicated, mean-tempered Alvin York. He's a good-for-nothing hoodlum, you see, or, at least, that's what most of the townsfolk think. The most they ever really see of Alvin is when he and his buddies Ike and Buck get boozed up and ride around hootin' and hollerin' on horseback, shooting their guns and generally being a dangerous nuisance.
But Alvin's mother knows the truth, that there is a different side to her son. His drinking problem and his violent temper aside, he's done a commendable job of looking after the York family ever since the death of his father, working their farm and pretty much singlehandedly taking care of his mother and his two younger siblings Rosie and George. He's also one of the finest sharpshooters in the county.
When he's sober, anyway.
Unfortunately, the times when Alvin is sober are few and far between lately. Desperate, Mrs. York asks their cousin, local pastor Rosier Pile, to try and talk some sense into her hellraisin' son. It doesn't go so well. Alvin isn't in much of a mood to listen and blows Pastor Pile off as politely as he can given the state he's in.
During one of his rare moments of sobriety, Alvin meets and falls in love with local girl Gracie Williams, but his brutish and antagonistic nature, including beating up and driving off fellow suitor Zeb Andrews, aren't exactly endearing him to her. Not quite getting the hint, Alvin gets it into his head that if he can own his own piece of land, Gracie will come around and agree to marry him, so he swears off the booze for a while and starts doing odd jobs in an effort to buy some land from local farmer Nate Tomkins. He wins a turkey shooting competition using his incredible sharpshooting skills, only to learn that while he was working his butt off, Tomkins went and sold the land to Zeb - his mortal enemy!
Alvin loses it. Despairing, he hits the bottle again and becomes worse than ever. One dark and stormy night, he drunkenly decides to get his rifle and go and murder Nate Tomkins for cheating him, over the objections of his buddies. On the way, though, a bolt of lightning strikes his gun. Alvin and his horse are miraculously left unhurt, but the rifle is a mangled and twisted mess. An instantly sobered-up Alvin comes to the conclusion that this is a sign from God, and stumbles into Pastor Pile's nearby church where he is welcomed with open arms. Swearing off booze and becoming a pacifist, Alvin makes amends with both Zeb and Mr. Tomkins, impressing Gracie and making her genuinely fall in love with him.
Just as things are looking up for Alvin, the US enters the Great War against Germany. Alvin, who now considers violence and killing morally wrong, tries to opt out as a conscientious objector with Pastor Pile's help, but the military isn't having it. His sharpshooting skills are just too good for them to pass up. Fortunately, his life in the Army isn't all that bad. His superior Major Buxton is sympathetic to his views, and Alvin also meets and befriends "Pusher" Ross and Bert Thomas. Although the other recruits and a few of the instructors - Sergeants Early and Parsons in particular - are initially contemptuous of his pacifistic worldview, his shooting skills soon earn him their respect and a promotion to corporal as well.
All too soon, though, they're being shipped off to Europe. They aren't there long before Bert gets killed by enemy mortar fire, and, under the command of Sergeant Early, they storm a heavily-fortified German machine gun position. An attempt to flank the Germans goes disastrously wrong. Although they capture the Germans' commanding officer, enemy fire forces everyone to take refuge in a trench, where they're pinned down. A wounded Early gives Alvin command and tasks him with taking out the machine gun nests. Can the conflicted Alvin find a way of winning the battle by killing as few enemy soldiers as possible? Is
there a way to stop the killing but still hold true to his pacifist beliefs?
Leaving the captive German officer with Pusher, Alvin gathers his courage and charges across the battlefield towards his destiny.
Sergeant York is an amazing movie that shows how a man can change himself to become a better person, and take this betterment with him to use his pacifist ideals to bring a conflict to as non-violent a conclusion as possible, actions for which he'd earn the Medal of Honor and a promotion to sergeant. Where its Christian ideals and morals are concerned, it isn't too
preachy, and even if that sort of stuff isn't for you, it's worth seeing at least once for the battle scene at the end.