MOVIE: HACKSAW RIDGE
STARRING: ANDREW GARFIELD; TERESA PALMER; VINCE VAUGHN; HUGO WEAVING
DIRECTED BY: MEL GIBSON
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge may be the most divisive motion picture of the year, but what cannot be said about the outcast director is that he pulls his punches. The oscar winner has stepped away from making movies for ten years, after a slew of personal problems, that now come baked into the narrative cake in his filmmaking. A personal opinion should come equipped for many, if not all audiences members, especially those who heard the alcohol induced and racist laced audio clips from Mad Mel. If you can set those personal issues aside, the Australian native does know how to put a film together. Hacksaw Ridge is an inspirational story about WWII Army medic and conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who went into battle without a weapon and rescued over seventy-five men. It is a story that fits right into Mel's wheelhouse, combining the fierce horrors of war and the power of faith to drive a man against insurmountable odds.
Early on, Hacksaw follows along a beat for beat tone that worked in Gibson's best picture winner- Braveheart. Doss starts as a young boy, growing up in the small town of Lynchburg, Virginia, with a father (Hugo Weaving) whose trauma from the first world war drives him to drink and put his hands on their gentle, but damaged, mother (Rachel Griffiths). She cares for their two boys, drilling the ten-commandments into their hearts, with the conflicting message of toughness that dad preaches, leading to an episode where the two brothers bare knuckle fight each other, leaving brother Harold almost losing his life and the shock sending young Desmond on a path of peace.
Later, Doss's loving courtship of the beautiful Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) is a romantic giggle fest and a charming segue to Desmond's enlisting to become a combat medic. His faith drives him to never picking up a gun, not even for target practice, but when he arrives with the riffle company of the 1st Battalion, he is challenged by Sergeant Howell, played by an impressively bellowing, but out of place, Vince Vaughn. The rest of his Army company haze him like the new member of Sigma Phi. His views are threatened with a court marshall, till his persistent commitment to make an impact in the war begrudgingly wins over the generals. Into the war Doss will go, without a gun in hand.
The second half of Hacksaw is not the sunshine and love witnessed in the first half. When Doss steps onto the battlefield, Gibson let's the bullets, blood, and bodies fly. His films are no stranger to violence. He applied it in Passion of the Christ and showed animalistic survival in Apocalypto. Here, the burning of skin and the shock of death hits us from every angle. That is the directors intention and he achieves a horrific authenticity in the trenches. This creates an enormous amount of gravity felt for Doss's achievement, as he sprints from body to body, applying pressure to a bleeding wound and administering morphine to someone in pain. Pausing to think about how all of this was possible is hard to believe had it all not truly happened.
What is negative about Gibson's film style is his heavy handed nature. The violence will turn audiences away and his depiction of the Japanese enemy, may be accurate in it's depiction, but feels heartless, portraying them more like rabid dogs instead of humans. As for the non-believer, such as myself, you may feel cornered. It is well known that Mel has a very devout and strong Catholic faith, and even with my heathen background, I was impressed with his conviction. One could be turned off by multiple images of Christ-like allegories, including moments where Doss wipes the dirt and blood off the face of a solider to help him see again or shines in the light with arms spread in a crucifix pose. These images are not coincidences, they are done on purpose, a credit that must be given to a director that is fearless in his beliefs, while also masterful with the art-form. Faith based movies should be done with this sure of a hand.
Hacksaw Ridge sends us into the trenches, displays what one can achieve with faith, and honors the courageous character of Desmond Doss. Andrew Garfield gives a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. This role is his best to date. As for Gibson, I was highly impressed with his work here. I don't think we can ever forget the mistakes he has made as a person, but if he keeps his head down and has confidence in the films he is making, what's up on the screen will speak for itself. Against all odds, Hacksaw Ridge is a fantastic achievement.
Written by: Leo Brady