Mel Gibson is a divisive figure of rampant controversy among Hollywood royalty. He may have been excluded from the silver screen as an actor, for comments which won’t be brought up in this review, but he can still make a fine film, and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is no exception. In fact, for a man who made ‘Braveheart’, ‘Apocalypto’ and ‘The Passion of the Christ’, this latest release, might just be his best.
For those not in the know, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a true story, focusing on a conscientious objector during World War II, Desmond Doss, played exceptionally well by Andrew Garfield. A combination of religion and past violent experiences have resulted in Doss turning down a firearm, in favour of helping the stricken, rather than causing more death and destruction upon his fellow mankind. It’s a decision that isn’t exactly taken very well by the brutality of the US Army, as you can imagine, but Doss sticks to his guns (not literally), wanting to protect his country and do the honourable thing by enlisting.
Gibson manages to construct a gripping film, which picks up with Doss and his family from youngsters, his pre-War life, the initial enlisting and training, before culminating with some of the most intense scenes I’ve seen in a cinema. It’d be easy enough to make a brutal, graphic action film or soppy drama with the stories of WW2, however, this manages to transcend the traditional tropes of both genres, creating a mesh of the two, while adding the third, very real-life horror of war.
You wince as explosives bang and bullets whizz by on-screen, fearing for the lives of not just Doss, but his band of brothers that make up his company. The very men who look upon him with scowls of derision, the men who’ve beaten him to a pulp before they even take to the Pacific and the true enemy is faced.
But as the action kicks in, and the bodycount truly stacks up in a massive and gruesome way. As an audience, we were engrossed, the scintillating soundtrack dimmed down and the sound of gunfire and human howls complimented the haunting horror on-screen. The aesthetics and attention-to-detail within the film are astounding, and you truly believe you’re an on-looker in the muddy cliffside battlefield that makes the name of the film.
Garfield’s performance is one of pure optimism, belief and trust in his fellow man, but the real hero is Doss himself, a man whose story needs to be known by all. Saving as many people as he did without firing a single bullet, as the trailer below documents, is an incredible feat, and the film is the perfect way to honour him – there certainly weren’t many dry eyes in the house when the closing credits came I can tell you that much!
The supporting cast of Vince Vaughn (!), Hugo Weaving and Sam Worthington, all play their parts with exceeding conviction, too. Vaughn has to be the most impressive as the Sgt of Doss’ company. He provides bravado, humour at the right time, but is totally locked in ‘actor mode’, so much so that you forget of his comedic past and believe in him as this 1945 Army Sergeant.
To put it bluntly, this film is the best I’ve seen for a while. It’s inspiring, gruesome and hard-hitting, but it’s an ultimately uplifting rollercoaster ride, that does exceptionally well to remain so gripping throughout. You care about pretty much everyone on-screen that’s involved in the horror and sadness of the War they were inevitably enveloped in, with no escape for so so many young men. Gibson, Garfield, and more importantly, Doss himself, have fashioned a story for the ages, with ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, that deserves to be seen by as many as possible.
Have you seen Hacksaw Ridge? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!