The controversy surrounding Mel Gibson has been storied and retold again and again. It goes back to the constant discussions as to when we have to separate art from artist. For me, it’s become relatively easy over time because he who is without cast the first stone or rant about why they hate Jews. Gibson is extremely flawed, but you wouldn’t know that if you were just looking at his resume of films he’s since directed. From the likes of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, his return to directing films was triumphant and resonant in more ways than one. Hacksaw Ridge is Gibson at his best in regards to action, tension, and getting the most emotionally captivating traits from his actors and Andrew Garfield proves he is world class.
I’m sure history buffs know the horrors of what happened at Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa Japan, but for us that came into the movie unaware of one of the most savage battles during World War II with one of the most unlikely heroes. Desmond T. Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who refused to pick up a gun, let alone kill anyone, and how he managed to become a hero by a being a pacifist all the way through. Garfield has once again proven to us the range of his talents beyond Spider-Man and it would be unfair to him to not recognize what he brought to Doss’ real life tragedies and trials.
We get just enough backstory to help us understand where Doss comes from, but with his backstory quickly explained, Gibson’s directorial prowess comes through the gruesome imagery and emotional bombardment of battle. In war, nobody wins, but even through the death and blood filled dirt, I couldn’t help myself when it came to seeing American soldiers take down their enemy. It was like I was on the battlefields with them, even just for a moment, and in that moment I felt I could have died. The submersing nature of the battle scenes was so terrifying and at some points unbearably real, it made you want to look away, but you want to see how Garfield’s Doss was able to rescue nearly 76 men.
This was a film I had to sleep on simply because of how much emotion came weeping from the movie’s characters and depth of the battles. Hugo Weaving is astounding in the few scenes he’s in as the father of Doss where he plays a drunken, war veteran suffering from PTSD. I have to say the same about Vince Vaughn as Sergeant Howell which presented a surprising amount of terrifically timed comedy through the first act as well as the central act of the film. I wish I was able to same the same about Sam Worthington, though. The Australian born actor is terrific on screen and brings a great presence to whatever role he’s in, but the poor guy just can’t hide that accent consistently. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you, but it won’t matter in the long run. The film is terrific and at some points tear inducing. The realistic depiction of the effects of bullets, grenades, and flamethrowers makes you realize that this is mostly true. These were events that happened to real people, but somehow, a God fearing pacifist was able to become a hero during World War II.