Mel Gibson’s return to the movie scene sees him direct Hacksaw Ridge, one of the most graphic WWII movies since Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. It’s a heck of a comeback for Gibson as, with the help of an incredibly impressive Andrew Garfield, he produces this touching yet action packed and gripping war flick.
Garfield plays combat medic and conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, a man of God who decides to serve during the war following Pearl Harbour. Due to his religious beliefs however, he refuses to carry a weapon in battle, causing controversy among his camp.
We first encounter Desmond as a child, growing up in Virginia in the 1930’s, fighting with his brother while his drunken WWI veteran father idly watches without any intention to break them up. We first see Desmond as a violent young lad but that deep down he struggles to comprehend his actions, appalled with himself over what he is capable of.
Following an incident with his brother, Desmond grows into a charming young adult – saving the life of a car accident victim shortly before sweet talking young nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) who he goes on to date and marry. This concludes the first act of the movie in which we get to witness Desmond’s home life, growing into an amiable and soft human being, sharing a smitten romance with Dorothy before landing the bombshell to her that he would be signing up for active duty.
The second section of the film sees the struggles that Desmond has to cope with in boot camp. We see him as an ideal soldier, beating his comrades in exercises and looking like a model student – until shooting practice. Refusing to even pick up his rifle, Desmond faces a back lash from his fellow soldiers as well as his officers in charge, which include strong performances from Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington.
After rigorous negotiating, Desmond is finally granted clearance to serve in Okinawa – without a fire arm, acting primarily as a combat medic. The final act of the movie is all out war and bloodshed, following Desmond as he rapidly reaches hero status for his actions amongst the carnage that is happening all around him.
Gibson does an incredible job of balancing the grit and horror of war with the compassion and courage that is based around this staggering real life hero. This balancing act helps make Hacksaw Ridge so much more than just a war film and much of that is down to Garfield. Although the Academy Award for Best Actor is likely to head elsewhere, Garfield produces his best performance to date and he is why we fall in love with Desmond who you can’t help but admire and respect.
Beyond the brilliance of its leading actor, Hacksaw Ridge is a visually stunning movie. The final act of the movie upon the ridge itself is one of the most intimate and brutal war scenes you are likely to see. By that stage, the previous two sections have set the audience up nicely, introducing you to Desmond and following his story and ambitions.
Despite his controversial past, Gibson has again shown that he has nothing to prove when it comes to gory storytelling. The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto were previous projects of his and all of these movies illustrate that he doesn’t get lost in all the blood and guts, but sticks to the story despite the violent carnage. It’s an incredible story of a remarkable human being, expertly portrayed.