I want whatever Mel Gibson was smoking during the interview which he bluntly said that the Marvel films were more violent than any movie he has done because Hacksaw Ridge might have given me mild PTSD. In addition to the gore-driven carnage of its war sequences, this film is also brimming with good performances all around. I mean, if you can force a great show from the likes of Sam Worthington or the dated Vince Vaughn, then that surely must be something worth seeing. But most noteworthy of all would be Andrew Garfield who gives his best display since The Social Network.
Hacksaw Ridge marks Mel Gibson’s return to the director’s chair since 2006’s Apocalypto. It is the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a pacifist who served as a US Army combat medic in World War II. He did the unthinkable by single-handedly rescuing 75 men without firing a single bullet during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. He went on to become the first conscientious objector to ever be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour; the United States of America’s highest military honour. Doss was actually the subject of another documentary back in 2004 called ‘The Conscientious Objector’; in this regard, Hacksaw Ridge can be seen as the natural successor to that.
Seeing that he does a great old Southern American accent in Hacksaw Ridge, I like to imagine how Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Brazilian Facebook co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, gave him the cutting edge in mimicking a foreign accent,. It is also satisfying to see this film as a turning point in Garfield’s career, a point of maturity, going pass his brief history as Spider-Man to be somebody of higher acclaim. To be someone now known as ‘that guy from that Oscar nominated film’ rather than ‘that guy who played the crappiest Spider-Man in the history of the character’.
If you take a look at most war films (see American Sniper, Lone Survivor), the title of being a hero is always cast upon the harbingers of death (death being along the lines of heroism rather than evil as some might assume). Sure bullets shredding torsos and explosions obliterating legs are fun to watch but it was refreshing to get a gritty war film where the protagonist saves lives instead of taking it, most ironically in a war. All Doss does on the battlefield is prevent people from dying – there are no combat scenes with him at all. That might sound unexciting for a show which is mainly powered by bloodshed, but Gibson smartly uses the hellfire of World War II to highlight the extraordinary heroics of Doss and it is as entertaining, if not more gratifying than to see the merciless killers of WWII continuously drop bodies.
The first half of this movie sees Gibson taking the time to carve out Doss as a devout Seventh-day Adventist. His personal moral quandary whenever he steps onto the battlefield and his unyielding conviction to keep true to who he is as a person (more to his religion) is methodically established from the start. The best part about all of this is that Gibson shows us this development instead of using lines of dialogue. The relationships that he built and the experiences he had to go through as a child ultimately defined who he is today. And that was the person who was in charge of saving the men on the offense, fighting for the freedom of his country. That was what made his character so much more enthralling.
Speaking of showing instead of telling, I enjoyed how Gibson used constant coincidental images of physically broken or psychologically tortured men who just returned from the depths of war to explain to us Doss’s undying desire to enlist and save as many lives as he can. After all, he is a true saint. Hacksaw Ridge proves that there is an extremely fine line of difference in quality when it comes to showing instead of telling and the former is perpetually more intelligent than the latter.
All that said, I would like to point out that while Hacksaw Ridge does encapsulate everything you would expect from the horrors of all-out war – the grime, gore, spilling guts, PTSD, shock and awe, the ending doesn’t take itself seriously, and you shouldn’t too. The sequence is hilarious and quite possibly celestial. Perhaps most important is that it is purposefully stupid, and a good one at that.
Should you spend money on it? Yes, watch it twice
Directed by: Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ)
Written by: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Rachel Griffits
Running time: 139 minutes