Director: Mel Gibson.
Screenplay: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight.
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Richard Pyros, Jacob Warner, Milo Gibson, Darcy Bryce, James Lugton, Nathaniel Buzolic, Troy Pickering, Richard Roxburgh.
“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons”
It’s hard to believe that Apocalypto in 2006 was the last time Mel Gibson was behind the camera. I suppose 10 years in movie-making exile is where antisemitic rants gets you in Hollywood. That aside, it’s a pleasure to see Gibson directing again as he often delivers big, entertaining spectacles and his latest certainly falls into line with that.
Plot: The true story of private Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) who joins the army during WWII but refuses to bear arms due to being a conscientious objector. At the battle of Okinawa, Doss serves as a medic, saving numerous lives and becomes the first man in history to win a Medal of Honor without ever firing a gun.
If you consider the material of Hacksaw Ridge, you might notice that’s it ripe material for Mel Gibson and his personal beliefs. As a man who has been very outspoken (a bit too much) on his Christian values, this film seems like the perfect vehicle for him to channel these beliefs. Faith and religion course throughout this and, as much as you may want to overlook it, it just won’t let you. This is a film about a saviour and it can’t help but bombard you with religious rhetoric and imagery. In the end, you could ask where God is in all this bloodshed and mayhem but that might be a tad too philosophical for what Gibson is going for here.
Sadly, that’s what’s missing from Hacksaw Ridge; Its jingoism feels out of touch and I couldn’t help but wonder what, say, Terrence Malick might have done with the material. If you consider Malick’s The Thin Red Line, for example, you’ll find a philosophical depth that’s lacking from Gibson’s film yet it would have benefited greatly from.
There’s also a contradictory nature; Despite feeling like an old-fashioned, Hollywood style picture it has many riffs and rip-off’s of contemporary war movies. There are several unashamed nods to Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan and Gibson’s own Braveheart and Hacksaw‘s major problem is that it doesn’t come close to bettering any of them.
I’m also not sold on the choice of leading man; Andrew Garfield is not a bad actor by any means but he doesn’t deliver a performance that’s worthy of the Oscar nomination he’s received for this. I don’t know, maybe it’s just his appearance that throws me off. He’s too boyish or maybe it’s just that I can’t help but focus on how disproportionate his hair is to his face. It’s not the first time in a film that I’ve noticed his monumentally large hair. It’s very distracting.
That said, despite its cliches and sometimes woefully written dialogue, this still has much to offer in terms of entertainment and it’s a pleasure to see Gibson calling the shots with his usual visceral approach. He still has a ferocious ability to stage a good action set-piece and Hacksaw provides a good number of them.
Although old sugar tits just can’t help but put his Christian values and themes of religious devotion into this, it’s hard not to be swept up in the combat and the man behind the astounding true story. It’s not subtle storytelling from Gibson but it’s simple and effective nonetheless.
Trivia: Producer Hal B. Wallis had previously tried to buy this story from Desmond T. Doss in the 1950s and hoped that Audie Murphy would star, but Doss had no interest in motion pictures and didn’t want his story turned into a typical Hollywood movie.