After a ten-year hiatus, Mel Gibson is back with his latest film Hacksaw Ridge and he isn’t pulling any punches. It was difficult to imagine Gibson being able to top his last film Apocalypto, arguably his masterpiece, but I think after ten years no one expected it either.
While Gibson is mostly known for his work as an actor, his talent as a director is where he most shines, and Hacksaw Ridge only adds to his superb body of work. It’s as brutal as one might expect from a Gibson film not to mention a movie about World War II, but its emotional resonance and strong moral compass in the main character helps give the story purpose and depth. Rather than another war movie about the insanity of war, Hacksaw Ridge flips that and says, “What if there was a light in all that darkness?” It’s a compelling true story with fantastic direction, cinematography, acting, and special effects — and it hands down deserves your attention.
Directed by Gibson and written by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of the first conscientious objector in World War II to win the Medal of Honor. Under the conviction of his religious beliefs not to take a life even in war, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) signs up to be a medic in the military, but undergoes tremendous persecution for refusing to carry a weapon in basic training. After fighting at the Battle of Okinawa, Doss’s troop is forced to retreat, but Doss stays behind to save the wounded despite mortar fire and the enemy surrounding him on the battlefield.
The true life story is so harrowing you’d think it would write itself and win awards automatically, but I can see the possibility of it failing in lesser hands. Knight and Schenkkan write a powerful script, capturing the essence of Doss’s story without suppressing his faith or the violence of war. Gibson in turn brings it to life, undeterred from showing all the gruesome details of battle. The tone resembles Unbroken, but with a greater emphasis on faith and how Christian values drove Desmond Doss.
The brutality of war and Doss’s values initially conflict when put together, and it’s easy to see the potential of wanting to ignore one or the other to appease certain groups of people. In other words, this could have been either a Lifetime Original movie or a another hopeless tale of war — but Gibson and the writers do such a great job inserting faith into war.
Make no mistake, Gibson’s penchant for violence in his movies is on full display here; you witness the horrors of war. However, it’s within this grisly and horrifying scene that Desmond’s values shine, bringing hope and gripping emotions to the film. While it has great pacing and the story never drags or becomes dull, the end feels anti-climactic and surprisngly cut short. Though this isn’t necessarily a negative as the resolution still feels satisfying and complete.
Andrew Garfield does a tremendous job playing a sweet, innocent, and naive kid preparing for war and then transforming into an overwhelmingly brave man. His attempt to put on a southern accent distracts at times, but his subtle emoting during dramatic scenes brings you in and helps you empathize with the character. Clearly, the weight of being a lead actor is on him, but he pulls it off well and makes the story that much more enjoyable.
Hugo Weaving, playing Desmond Doss’s father Tom Doss, is at his best in this supporting role, fully encapsulating the character and truly bringing a weight and a heft to a troubled, broken, and flawed man. The relationship between Doss and his father plays a major role in the story and Garfield and Weaving portray this relationship so well together on screen.
Gibson goes all out with the action sequences during the war, creating an amazing visual experience that hasn’t been seen since Saving Private Ryan. This tale of World War II gives the 1998 Academy Award-nominated film a run for its money at the very least. The cinematography and choreography make it look so realistic. Gibson brings you into the fight — if you’re a fan of war films, Gibson gives you what you want.
Movies like this don’t come along too often and even though it took Gibson ten years to make a comeback and direct this film, I’d say it was well worth the wait. The writing, acting, special effects, direction and score are all at the highest caliber. It reaches you on a visual, emotional, and intellectual level and treats the characters like real people with real flaws, problems, and doubts. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hacksaw Ridge is seen as a classic twenty years from now, but in the meantime, it’s in theater and you should go see it.
Photos courtesy of: Summit Entertainment