Mel Gibson is back in the director’s chair for the first time in almost 10 years with his latest feature, Hacksaw Ridge. The film tells the story of Corporal Desmond Doss, a real-life soldier during World War 2 who became the first ever “conscientious objector” to be rewarded the congressional Medal of Honour.
The film focuses on Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) and his saving of 75 soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. It recounts how he developed this attitude of not using a gun at war, as well as his treatment during training in the army.
Hacksaw Ridge, helped by phenomenal acting, beautiful camerawork, and astonishing and viscerally violent battle scenes, establishes itself as one of the greatest war movies ever made, as well as one of Gibson’s finest films, 2nd only to Braveheart, and not by much. It is also a fascinating exploration of humanity, faith, and morality.
The performances in this film are fantastic. Hugo Weaving is terrific as Tom Doss Desmond Doss’ father and traumatised World War 1 veteran. His heart-break at the prospect of his two sons going to war comes across instantly which makes his character instantly sympathetic, despite his drunken tendencies.
He is not the only one, and special shoutouts must go out to Sam Worthington (Captain Glover), and Luke Gracey (Smitty Ryker) who both put in terrific performances as men who strive so hard to break Doss’ faith and get him to quit the army, but who ultimately become confidants of Doss’ when things go south.
However, possibly the biggest surprise of the entire film must be the performance of Vince Vaughn who turns in one of the greatest performance of his entire career as Sergeant Howell. He is intense, commanding, yet occasionally humorous in his role which ALMOST makes him the star performer.
However, the accolade of star must go to the absolutely mesmerising Andrew Garfield who puts in, undoubtedly, his best ever performance as Desmond Doss. His infectious optimism makes the character instantly likeable while also making it more despairing when Doss is in peril. His chemistry with Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) is natural, which makes the relationship between the characters instantly charming and believable, while also establishing a pick-up line for the ages.
Not only that but Doss comes across as a genuine hero whose sole mission is to save lives instead of taking them, whether it is friend or foe, without firing off a single shot.
While the romance plot line is charming, Hacksaw Ridge is, after all, a war movie, and a cracker of a war film at that. Doss’ training is done terrifically well and his struggle to convince those in command to take him seriously as a soldier and to allow him to serve is great as well.
However, what will stick in most people’s memories for years to come is the actual violence and, good lord almighty, does the violence in this film stick with you. The build-up of tension before battle leaves the viewer in a paranoid and nervous state which means that, when the guts and gore kick-off suddenly, it hits you like a runaway freight train.
It is absolutely masterfully done from start to finish by a director who is one of the best in the business when it comes to violence. Never before has a depiction of a war left an impression on me than Hacksaw Ridge. The violence is captured like a horror movie, it is legitimately terrifying. So much so that I had to leave the screening for about 5 minutes just to catch my breath.
This is helped in no small part to the astonishing cinematography from Simon Duggan (iRobot, The Great Gatsby). The action feels grounded, dirty, gritty, and claustrophobic. The action feels despairing, hopeless, and eternal. It leaves the viewers willing for it to end for the safety of the characters, which is key for any war film. While the gore is sickening at times, at the end of the day, that is how it had to be considering the fact that the Battle of Okinawa is considered to be one of the bloodiest battles of World War 2.
Unfortunately, as with any film, Hacksaw Ridge is not flawless. In particular, the crescendo of hopeful music during the closing scenes left an impression of slight bias on this writer and felt out of tone with the grim and horrific realities of war which this film establishes. As well as that, there is a lack of satisfying pay-off for the arc of Desmond’s brother.
Ultimately, Hacksaw Ridge is an incredible piece of filmmaking and a fantastic return for Mel Gibson. Terrifically acted by all involved, with violence which sticks with you for days after viewing, it is possibly the finest war film since Saving Private Ryan, despite the slight weaknesses which I have outlined. There is so much more which I can say about it, but I would rather you to go watch it yourself. All that’s left to say is welcome back Mel Gibson.