We all know that Mel Gibson has his demons, as his battle with alcoholism took center stage several years ago.
In “Hacksaw Ridge,” Gibson’s first film in ten years, the director takes the violence of war to the extreme. It’s almost as if the director has an addiction with violence in the film.
In war scenes that mirror and go beyond anything experienced in the classic “Saving Private Ryan,” a war film that veterans actually walked out of due to the realistic violence in scenes.
“Hacksaw Ridge,” tells the story of Desmond T. Doss, an American pacifist who served as a combat medic during World War II. Doss personally carried 75 wounded soldiers from the Battle of Okinawa. He became the first conscientious objector to receive a Medal of Honor.
Doss’ journey entails psychological harassment from his fellow officers, as well as a physically daunting scene involving a 350-foot ridge, of which the film gets its name.
While the film paints a story of an American hero, which Doss undoubtedly is, Gibson doesn’t go light on the gore and tragedy that is war. The “Passion of Christ” director also makes sure that Doss’ Christian beliefs are front and center in the film.
Much like the aforementioned “Passion” and “Braveheart,” Gibson mixes religion with violence. The lead characters are physically brutalized because of their beliefs. Much like the director, the characters stand by their convictions no matter how brutal the violence becomes.
Unlike William Wallace, Doss refuses to participate in the violence, never picking up a weapon. While Jesus, who we met in “Passion” was punished for his beliefs, Doss does not personally endure the hell and carnage in the film.
Darcy Bryce is brilliant as a young Doss, who grows up in the mountains of Virginia, where at a young age he nearly kills his brother Hal. From there, Doss vows to never use a weapon again.
Fast forward to 1942 and an equally brilliant Andrew Garfield is playing a grown up Doss. Garfield’s charm makes him an unlikely candidate to play a soldier, yet he pulls it off brilliantly. Despite refusing to carry a weapon, Doss wants to serve his country, so he enlists in the Army. Before leaving he meets and falls for Dorothy, played by Teresa Palmer. Hugo Weaving also does a solid job, playing Tom, Doss’ father, who is a World War I veteran and a drunk. Scenes of Tom’s abuse toward his wife and kids are shown in the film.
Having taken a break from the mainstream film scene for a few years, Gibson shows why he should be considered one of the top filmmakers in the business. From his early days behind the camera with “The Man Without a Face,” to “Braveheart,” “The Passion of Christ,” and “Apocalypto,” Gibson has an eye for not just telling a story, but telling a story with violence.
Gibson’s latest is not without its faults, as Vince Vaughn’s character, while humorous, will have filmgoers thinking they are watching Gunnery Sgt. Harman from “Full Metal Jacket.”
The other soldiers Doss meets at boot camp are your stereotypical tough guys from any war film.
While “Hacksaw Ridge” may be a blockbuster and earn Gibson an Oscar nod for directing, it doesn’t break any new ground in filmmaking. Gibson is clearly in love with bodies being blown in two and bullets ripping through limbs. Some of the violent scenes come off like a ballet of violence, which is at times hard to unsee. The film is clearly not for the squeamish or faint of heart.
In the end, Gibson does what he set out to do, tell a improbable, entertaining and honest story of an American hero, while honoring the soldiers who have given their lives for their country.
Hacksaw Ridge gets an A-.