If 2016 has proven anything, it’s that anything can happen; which means Mel Gibson has obviously returned to the director’s chair (along with announcing a freaking sequel to Passion of the Christ). Let me be frank, I love Braveheart. Absolutely love it. And yes, I like Mel Gibson…as an actor and director; like him or not, he is pretty talented.
With his return to the helm after a decade (his last film being Apocalypto), Mel Gibson crafts a devastatingly effect war film in Hacksaw Ridge, but it still feels very much like a Gibson film, which is mostly a good thing.
When Desmond Doss, an awkward but valiant young Virginian decides he wants to serve his country despite being a pacifist and “Conscientious Objector,” he undergoes brutal treatment from his peers as they cannot fathom having to defend some “chicken shit” from enemy fire when he won’t fire upon them himself.
Andrew Garfield takes up the roll with an intensity we rarely see from him. He captures the awkwardness well, even if his accent feels a touch off, and we come to really admire his courage. At times you kinda want to just yell at him because he could save himself a lot of pain and suffering if he were to just pick up the gun in training so he can get leave and marry his girlfriend, but that would be too easy. Time and again he’s harassed, pushed around, and made an example of which certainly proves to us he is not going to pick up a gun, but much of this takes place over what feels like half the movie before he even gets to the war.
Frustrations aside with the first half—which is mostly Garfield falling in love with the love of his life, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), dealing with his drunk dad (Hugo Weaving), or getting beat up—the second half is where Gibson flips a switch and gives us some of the most intense and brutal war scenes since Saving Private Ryan.
Gibson gets gratuitous at times as he depicts the fighting on Okinawa—specifically for Hacksaw Ridge—as explosions and screams deafen us in the hazy fog of war. It’s bleak and brutally convincing, but when you include a scene where a soldier picks up half a corpse with one hand and a machine gun with the other, it is definitely a little too much. Gibson’s attempts to portray reality are well-commended, but seriously, this isn’t made out to be a glorified action film from the beginning, so when Doss bitch-slaps a grenade out of the air it really takes away from the grim atmosphere that had been so skillfully created.
Where it gets to be too Gibsony is the superfluous religious symbology that range from scenes of prayer, camera angles that christen Doss as a Christ-like figure, and the constant mentioning of Doss’ bible. About halfway through, all you want to shout is “we get it!” but it keeps going, up until the final frame.
Nevertheless, Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best war films to come out in some time. Garfield’s performance is intense and inspiring, while Gibson deftly handles some grim material, even if he lets his religious side take over from time to time. If you’re needing a little inspiration after this devastating week, look no further.