Based on the true story of Desmond Doss, Hacksaw Ridge is about the pacifist who enlisted in the US military as a medic in World War Two but refused to use a rifle, even in the heat of battle.
Director Mel Gibson finally combines his religious zeal with his love of onscreen violence with devastatingly effective results. While this combination created in The Passion of the Christ an icky, crude horror movie which was about as profound as a bag of gummy bears, Hacksaw Ridge is a genuinely thoughtful piece which examines the effects of war and tests religious beliefs to their limit.
In this latter sense it’s akin to Scorsese’s Silence, but where Silence was an entirely literal test – asking its priests to denigrate their religion or face torture – Hacksaw Ridge tests this in a practical moral dilemma: will the full onslaught of an enemy assault convince a pacifist to bear arms? It’s also a belief system which can be understood without the accompanying religions belief. While Doss was motivated by his religion, it’s perfectly possible to understand why someone would renounce violence without it.
In my review of Silence I argued Scorsese made a Mel Gibson film, with torture and religious evangelism to rival Christ. Well here Gibson makes a sensitive exploration of the concept of courage, and arguably even dares to make an anti-violence piece. He has clearly matured as a film maker since the dark days of Christ.
It’s very much a film of two halves, with the first following Doss’s enlistment and training, winning the right to serve; and the second a relentless battle, more visceral than anything seen since the opening of Saving Private Ryan. We all knew Gibson could direct action (see Apocalypto), but here he delivers drama too, creating a film which is beautifully moving and never forced in its execution.
The cast are excellent, with the adorably innocent Andrew Garfield anchoring the film in the lead role, with strong support from Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn.Combined with Gibson’s assured direction it makes a film which is the full package and then some.
You know a film is a good when a man with as much baggage as Gibson can convince the Academy to give him a Best Director nod. But will he win out against La La Land?*