The two Oscars that sit on Mel Gibson’s mantle for his directing and producing ‘Braveheart’ have never persuaded me into thinking it was a good movie. In fact, none of Gibson’s trips behind the camera have ever produced a memorable film – until now. Though not perfect, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a brutal and powerful film.
There is no doubt Gibson relishes in savagely violent moments on-screen and he doesn’t shy away from that in his latest but manages a feat that has often eluded his filmmaking. He creates genuinely tense and thrilling moments – I jumped at least twice during ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ – amidst the warfare. Ratcheting up the tension as the film progresses is a good indication of a strong filmmaker – anyone with a budget that allows can throw blood and guts at the screen.
In terms of war films, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ tells a story that many might not know, alone making Gibson’s film an overall refreshing entry to the canon. We first meet Desmond Doss as a young boy, spending his days out on adventures with his brother, while simultaneously fighting with him. Between an incident that goes too far with his brother and growing up with a drunk and abusive father, something clicks within Desmond, who vows to never resort to violence again.
Desmond grows up (played by Andrew Garfield) and is unsatisfied sitting at home while others go to war. He enlists in the army with the hopes of being a medic but shocks his commanding officer (Vince Vaughn) when he refuses to even touch a rifle during practice. Desmond is court marshalled for disobeying orders but ultimately allowed to go into battle without ever touching a weapon. He does just that.
As the men head into the Battle of Okinawa, the other soldiers (played by Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Milo Gibson and Luke Pegler) are quick to pass judgment on Desmond and confuse his beliefs as cowardice. Desmond takes his role in the army as seriously as anyone else, working tirelessly to give the severely wounded a fighting chance.
The entire cast work well together, with everyone give little moments to shine. Teresa Palmer, as Desmond’s wife, and Rachel Griffiths as his mother, are infuse individual scenes with empathy and concern before the brutality sets in. The always welcome Hugo Weaving turns in another fine performance as Desmond’s father, who is haunted by his demons, both past and present.
Garfield and Gibson do all of the heavy lifting together, working as actor and director in tandem to bring this story to life. In his strongest performance since ‘The Social Network,’ Garfield brings Desmond’s courage to the foreground.
Gibson doesn’t always direct subtly – lobbing images and symbolism at you like grenades – but he does find a balance between story and gore. ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is as brutal as it gets without teetering into ‘Saw’ territory (overheard some chatter after the screening that it might have been a little too distracting). Even so, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a visceral experience, beautifully captured and places you on the battlefield.
It’s not for the faint of heart but it’s a story worth telling.