The following is a film review of Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge.
The rather controversial Mel Gibson, a gifted actor and a sublime director, has directed another film for us to enjoy. Hacksaw Ridge is his first film as a director since 2006’s Apocalypto. Let’s just get this out of the way, though. Mel Gibson – as a person – isn’t as beloved as he once was, but I have absolutely no interest in discussing his actions outside of filmmaking in this review.
Instead, I want to focus on this excellent film that Gibson – who will always be Martin Riggs, to me – has directed. And while I enjoy his previous work as a director, I have to say that this film – Hacksaw Ridge – might actually be my favorite film directed by the man who once played Max Rockatansky and William Wallace.
Hacksaw Ridge tells the unbelievable true story about how Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) – a pacifist and Seventh-day Adventist – chose to serve his country in World War II without using a firearm, so that he wouldn’t break the Sixth Commandment of the Old Testament.
Though initially challenged by his Sergeant (played by Vince Vaughn) and Captain (played by Sam Worthington), beaten by his fellow soldiers, and called a coward time and time again, Doss stands firm and is eventually sent to participate in the Battle of Okinawa as a medic. Now, Doss is given an opportunity to show his worth, his courage, and his conviction as his fellow soldiers struggle against Japanese forces.
This is a biographical war film – a very violent one, but I’ll get to that later – but Mel Gibson has described this film not as a war film – per se – but rather as a love story about the power of faith and conviction. Now, that description may not sound as inviting as just classifying it as a typical war film, but Mel Gibson has a point.
In fact, if you expect this film not to go into faith, love, and life then you might actually be a little bit bored in the first half of the film and surprised in the latter half. The film takes a lot of time to really introduce the central ‘hero,’ but also his relationships with his family members and his girlfriend.
Some of these introductory scenes really work, but I think some people may feel like they’ve walked into the wrong theater or put on the wrong film early on in the film. But I actually think that really works for the film. These introductory scenes – and the subsequent Fort Jackson sequences – lull you into a false sense of security, so that the film can then horrify and shock you with brutal war scenes that definitely make impressions on you.
Words can’t properly describe the incredible violence in these scenes. It’s painful to watch, and, to be perfectly honest with you, it was stressing me out. The film invites strong reactions from its audience in these scenes, and they will come. These scenes are experiences and they showcase astonishing violence that feels authentic and powerful.
I was really impressed with a lot of the performances in this film. I think Hugo Weaving, who plays Desmond’s father, was fantastic, but I don’t think that’s the real story here when it comes to the supporting performances. Luke Bracey, Sam Worthington, and Vince Vaughn all give surprisingly impressive dramatic performances here.
And then, at the center of the film, we have Andrew Garfield. Garfield was solid in The Social Network, charismatic in The Amzing Spider-Man films, and impressive in 99 Homes. But, at the time of writing, this is the best performance I’ve seen him give. He does a fantastic job of really showing the weight of his character’s unshakeable faith in key scenes. With Hacksaw Ridge, Garfield becomes not just a good actor, but a great actor, and if this performance is anything to go by, then Garfield will be a household name sooner rather than later.
Hacksaw Ridge is a fantastic faith-based war film, and one of Mel Gibson’s best as a director. It definitely isn’t a perfect film, but it features some of the most impressive violence ever released in a movie. Mel Gibson has done a wonderful job with Hacksaw Ridge, as has cinematographer Simon Duggan. Gibson has given us a film that is startingly brutal, yet impressively well-acted. It is a must-watch film.
9 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex