Mel Gibson is back behind the camera in his first film in ten years with the powerful Hacksaw Ridge. An instant classic of an entry into a small, but impressive list of films for Gibson’s directorial career.
Hacksaw Ridge tells the true and sometimes unbelievable story of Desmond Doss, an American superhero and Army medic who was the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor for saving 75 lives during the Battle of Okinawa without a weapon. In the beginning of the film, Desmond, played wonderfully by Andrew Garfield, discovers a path to non-violence steeped in his Christian faith and idealism, and eventually he joins the military out of a sense of duty to his country.
Mel Gibson creates a beautiful yin yang of a picture: half of the film is soaked in bright Capra-esque earnestness, while the other is brutal, confusing, and effective violence—but both sides keep a touch of the other. The story starts in West Virginia--it's bright and beautiful in simple times, but it's overshadowed by Tom Doss's alcoholism and abuse; Desmond falls in love with his nurse Dorothy, but he's compelled to go join the fight; Desmond is a great soldier, but is punished for being a pacifist. As we get into the second and third acts of the film we change settings to a gloomy Okinawa, filled with dead bodies, rats, blood, guts, and the sounds of war, but there's a drop of hope--Desmond.
Gibson proves yet again that he’s one of the best directors when it comes to action. He creates some of the most visceral and disturbing sequences of violence I have ever seen in a movie. While some may feel it’s too indulgent or pornographic, these sequences reveal the truths of the characters and the reality of war. We don’t know these boys more than when they get their first taste of disoriented violence. And we’re right there with them just as confused, scared, and horrified. The calm at night comes as much of a relief to us as the characters in the film. Gibson creates tension, excitement, dread, and chaos by meticulously moving the camera with precision and meaning.
I would need too many paragraphs to praise this cast: Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Pegler, Sam Worthington and even Mel Gibson’s son Milo, all turn in fantastic performances alongside Garfield, who will rightfully be campaigning for that Best Actor Oscar. Each of them honor their real life counterparts with grace, excellence, and a complexity that reminds us that these were real people dealing with the worst that life has to offer.
More important than the film itself? The story. Desmond Doss’s story demands to be seen, and Hacksaw Ridge is an excellent film deserving of his story. Desmond Doss is an American hero, and his story is inspirational, and this film—despite its blood and guts—is one that can leave you in hopeful tears. The state of the planet is in turmoil in 2016, we’re very badly wounded and left to die, but if we hold out hope that the Desmond Doss'es of the world might just come save us, who knows where we could go from here?