Hacksaw Ridge. Starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey. Directed by Mel Gibson. Summit Entertainment. Rated R. 131 minutes. Biography, Drama, Romance
Hacksaw Ridge is a film about a Christian pacifist who won the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot.
It is also drowning in about five gallons of fake blood and caked in dirt. And yes, it’s a film directed by the ex-Mad Max himself, Mel Gibson.
This man was once content with starring in harrowing and violent war pictures like Gallipoli, which by the way is a much better use of your leisure time than this film. He has since moved on to directing his own harrowing and violent war films but with 100 per cent more religious references.
Gibson’s bottomless thirst for mayhem and sincerely held religious beliefs have brought him to perhaps the apex of his style: the story of one veteran Desmond Doss (Garfield) and his time at Okinawa.
Mr. Doss (who passed away in 2006) has one of those truer-than-life stories that actually becomes too difficult to adapt believably. His remarkable tale involves everything from lowering 75 wounded men down a cliff face while under fire, to getting off his own stretcher so another man could be taken, instead crawling the rest of the way with one good arm and shrapnel filled legs. All in the name of Seventh Day Adventism.
With a life story like that it’s remarkable that some form of crude-late-40s-propaganda film wasn’t made sooner. A gap that this film remarkably fills, with a penchant for Hallmark dialogue, Norman Rockwell scenery, and cliched-love-and-court stories.
The early scenes aren’t terrible, and are generally well-acted, particularly by Hugo Weaving as Doss’ alcoholic WW1 veteran father. But they are, of course, ultimately just a foundation for the battle scenes that come afterwards. After all, no one watches a war film for the peace, even a Christian war film like this one.
How does the second half pan out? Well the cliched dialogue never really ends, but the sun drenched Virginia farm lands do. They make room for scenes of such violence that they can only be accurately described as: biblical.
If you thought that Mel Gibson literally nailed down the ethos of Jesus-inspired suffering in The Passion of the Christ, then wait until you see what’s coming with Hacksaw Ridge. The camera zooms in nearly as much on the rending, burning, and perforating flesh, as it does on the hero’s anguish and ingenuity. This ends up leading to the battlefield looking like a lost circle of hell, and unfortunately to the Japanese often coming-off as torturous demons testing the piety of our hero.
Luckily Andrew Garfield as Pvt. Doss is able to tone down some of holier-than-thou aspects, finding a vein of doubt within himself. For too long a time you think of Doss as an ideal rather than as a person, free of neuroses and complications. But after a while you see the darkness in him, and you believe it exists because of the thoughtful way Garfield prepares you.
Is Hacksaw Ridge a good film? Even now I’m not really sure. It’s a film that, on the one hand, wants to be for the post-retirement demographic —a harkening back to the aw-shucks-Americana. On the other hand, it’s a film directed by a gore-addicted lunatic who seems to believe that the path to salvation is through a human meat thresher (is thresher a word?).
At its highs it reaches some sort of meaningful, but it quickly succumbs to its director’s affinity for the blood (of christ and of gore).
So maybe go watch it, or maybe go watch Gallipoli.
Okay definitely go watch Gallipoli.