Hacksaw Ridge

Directed By: Mel Gibson

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, and Vince Vaughn

"Lord, please help me get one more."
-Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield)

In my five years writing for STMR, there's one prominent filmmaker whose movies I've not had the chance to review — the one and only Mel Gibson.  There's a good reason for it.  The Passion of the Christ director has maintained a pretty low standing in the court of public opinion after his racist, anti-Semitic tirade some years ago.  Nonetheless, his latest film Hacksaw Ridge arrived in theaters this past weekend.  As I look at how it's arrived in theaters, I must say that the film's marketing campaign has reinforced the fact that Mel Gibson is the He Who Must Not Be Named of A-list celebrities.  All the marketing for this war drama plays down the fact that he's the director.  They refer to him as the visionary director of Braveheart without actually mentioning his name.  Don't act like we don't know who he is or we can't google it in an instant.  It's the same way that Paul Ryan and many of the Republican elites treated Donald Trump by simply referring to him as the party's nominee.  Alas, none of this really matters to me.  Hacksaw Ridge looks to be an awards contender and has a noteworthy subject.  Mel's sins won't stop me from experiencing and offering my thoughts on a quality film.

Desmond Doss (Garfield) has been raised in a violent household.  His father Tom (Hugo Weaving) served in World War I.  His father survived physically but is psychologically scarred for life.  For Desmond, his brother Hal, and his mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), his father's personal demons have made family life quite turbulent.  After growing up in a combustible, abusive environment, Desmond grows into a man against using weapons.  Given his interest in serving in the armed forces after Pearl Harbor, Desmond finds that his beliefs are in stark contrast with his desire to serve.  Nonetheless, he enlists as a conscientious objector.  With his beliefs in mind, his commanding officers Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) believe Desmond is not fit to serve, especially when their unit makes its way to Hacksaw Ridge.  Meanwhile, Desmond begins wooing nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer).

Despite my personal feelings about Mel Gibson and his past transgressions, I must say that he still knows how to make one hell of a movie.  Simply put, the man knows how to make war on the big screen, and he puts it all out there in Hacksaw Ridge.  As guts fly and limbs scatter in a war without end, it's very clear that Gibson's latest won't be any easier to watch than Braveheart or Passion of the Christ.  As our lead character Desmond Doss refuses to embrace violence when it's the only thing in the hell where he's serving, it's both timely and potent considering the violence that plagues our society at this heightened, hyper-partisan moment in American history.  As we explore the history of an icon who defied all expectations in the most miraculous way, it's incredibly timely with Veterans Day having just passed.  Emotionally resonant, morally poignant, and historically relevant, Hacksaw Ridge is undoubtedly the best war movie to grace theaters in years.  
War is always a challenging subject to depict on the big screen, but Gibson most definitely rises to the challenge.  From the intense periods of unrelenting bloodshed to the quiet moments of imminent doom, Gibson utilizes a number of cinematic devices to bring this aspect of World War II to gritty glory on camera.  You can see it in the make-up, costume, and set designs that not only harken back to the 1940s but recreate the closest thing to hell on earth, the battlefield.  You can hear it in the brilliant sound mixing laced with explosions and gunfire that crescendo as the battle atop Hacksaw Ridge intensifies.  You can feel it in the beautiful compositions that underscore the tragedy of it all and the array of emotions that happen on and off the battlefield as a result of the horrors of war.  Yes, Gibson knows how to make war on the big screen, and he's done so quite skillfully and effectively once again.

The performances are second to none here in Hacksaw Ridge.  As our lead Desmond Doss, Andrew Garfield really rises to the occasion.  The unmovable moral pillar of the film, Garfield really is able utilize Desmond's faith and the scars of his turbulent upbringing to imbue his character with a different kind of strength and a different kind of courage.  Tormented and persecuted throughout the film, Garfield doesn't just play the wounded hero with a lot of heart.  He also delivers quite a bit of charisma and humor.  It's a really nuanced performance.  For his part as Desmond's abusive father Tom, Hugo Weaving delivers a pretty flawed character.  Haunted by the scars of the First World War that have come to shape his personality in the decades that have followed, Weaving's Tom Doss is a pretty combustible character.  For her part as Desmond's significant other Dorothy Schutte, Teresa Palmer brings a warmth and a tenacity to the screen and shares plenty of romantic chemistry with Garfield.  Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Vince Vaughn who brings quite a bit of comic relief in his portrayal of Sergeant Howell.

My one quip with Hacksaw Ridge is its diversity.  There is none whatsoever, with the notable exception of the Japanese soldiers on the receiving end of a flamethrower.  I can understand that the military was segregated at this point in history, but we spend a considerable amount of time exploring Desmond's upbringing.  I find it hard to believe that there are no persons of color in the city of Lynchburg, Virginia.  I just do.  Regardless, Hacksaw Ridge is an outstanding movie focused on a moment in history we should all revisit.  Mel Gibson's latest film gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.