-Mel Gibson’s return to directing is a glorious exercise in tense war action and an immensely likable lead hero.

There’re moments in Hacksaw Ridge that are terrifying.

Perhaps it’s just that the only violence we really see is entirely in a fictionalized context, and the fear that we feel from suspense films is usually manufactured, but there’s a new kind of realism that permeates the second half of Mel Gibson’s new war epic Hacksaw Ridge. There’s a commitment to watching true suffering and true terror to then help our main character persevere through one of the most grueling and inspiring sequence of events in World War II. It’s so brilliantly directed and filmed that the audience is inserted right there in the battle sequences, getting thrown into an ambush by Japanese soldiers where we see dozens of soldiers get shot down right in front of our eyes. Gibson doesn’t pull the punches. Even our friends can have grisly deaths.

Regardless of whether or not you like Gibson as a person (and most people don’t), I’m not willing to judge one of Hollywood’s greatest talents because of a few unfortunate incidents in his past. If we can sit and watch Woody Allen every year, I’m sure we can still open our heart to the wonderfully talented, but completely crazy, Gibson. Truthfully, although Braveheart is one of the 1990s most decorated films and Apocalypto is a really special adventure/suspense experiment, his effort here may be his best bit of film-making. Even if it doesn’t get the awards attention because of Gibson’s past, it’s worth stating it up front; objectively, Hacksaw Ridge is excellent.

Our story is actually a true one, the extraordinary life and principles of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first conscientious objector to ever be awarded the medal of honor. One night, during the attempt to take “Hacksaw Ridge” a strategic place in the Battle of Okinawa, Doss is left at the top of the hill, carrying 75 men to safety on his back and lowering them down to the ground through a system of pulleys, and being a true hero despite never firing a shot during the war. It’s both his Christian beliefs and his upbringing with a loving mom and brother, but a drunken father (Hugo Weaving) that has turned him into a pacifist. Part of the film also focuses on Doss’s courting of his long-time wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) in the film’s lighter scenes.

For anyone who thought Garfield’s career was over after the flop of his Spider-Man interpretation, this is an example to show that those people were very wrong. Garfield is a career best and is just terrific as Doss, a mild-mannered, good person that may not be the smartest person you’ll meet, but is fiercely loyal and faithful. There’s a real intricacy to Garfield’s work here, where the slower, more lonesome side of Doss is juxtaposed with his warmth for Dorothy, a terrific Teresa Palmer who also does her best work.

In addition to all of that, however, is just the true expertise and power behind Gibson’s directing here. A specific agenda is never really pushed, even though it is a Faith-based story, and the attention to detail is really paid to both the writing of the Doss character, and the breath-taking visuals and action sequences. There’s just no way this film glorifies war. It shows it as horrifying and immensely brutal. This is an inspiring film, and it’s occasionally a tough film to watch because of how open it is to violence, but if there’s a true curiosity about this, I would fully recommend going to see it. The war scenes are incredible, and Garfield’s performance carries the film.

 

4.5 stars

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Genre: War

Director: Mel Gibson (Braveheart, Apocalypto, The Passion of the ChristMan Without a Face)

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, and Vince Vaughn

RT Score: 86%

 

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