By: Samar Khan
After his well-publicized fall from grace nearly a decade ago, Mel Gibson all but disappeared off of the Hollywood map, appearing in the occasional action thrillers but never venturing into the limelight. After working his way back into the good graces of the Hollywood fraternity, the director of classics such as Braveheart and Apocalypto helms the film adaptation of World War II hero, Desmond Doss, and does so remarkably. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the review for Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge.
The tale of Doss is without a doubt amazing and something the general public is unaware of. Gibson attempts to rectify that, by delivering to us the tale of the soldier who refused to take up arms on the battlefield and chose to save lives rather than take them. Doss’ story is extremely simple: we have a country boy that believes firmly in God’s commandment that one “shall not kill” and extrapolates that to the battlefield, where his entire focus concerns keeping his fellow American soldiers alive and out of the reach of the fearsome Japanese opposition.
Andrew Garfield absolutely shines as the Virginia-born Doss, lending a level of humanity to his character that resonates with the entirety of the viewing audience. Garfield impresses with his Virginia accent, which is even more remarkable considering his upbringing and native British accent which differs considerably from the more drawn-out Virginian drawl. Throughout the film, he shines, whether it be recovering from a beating to just letting his eye speak for him as he exerts every last breath he has, to dragging all of his surviving comrades off of the field of battle before they are butchered. That ability to emote with merely your eyes and facial tics is an underrated quality and is on full display in Hacksaw Ridge, a testament to Garfield’s growing acting prowess.
Teresa Palmer plays his love interest/wife, Dorothy, and displays remarkable poise for an actress not known for her drama film exploits. While her role was relatively minor compared to the screen-time afforded to Garfield, she made her appearances count and played the perfect doting lover of Garfield’s Doss.
Of the remainder of the supporting cast, there were some notable surprises. Sam Worthington, after what felt like years out of the spotlight following the success of Avatar, plays the role of Captain Glover, a doubter-turned-believer of Doss’ methods. His evolution through the film was highlighted perfectly and synced up with the amazement levels of the viewing audience as the story played on.
Vince Vaughn (I know, right?) somehow plays the near-perfect Sergeant Howell who, similar to Worthington’s Glover, grows more and more amazed by Doss’ exploits. Vaughn’s character gradually evolves from being the hard*** drill sergeant to sympathetic battlefield comrade. He deserves major plaudits for his ability to deviate from his comedic, film based past and take on such a demanding and serious role and deliver results with aplomb. Luke Bracey also deviates from a more action-film filmography and shines as yet another doubter-turned-believer, with his performance as Smitty Ryker definitely earning him new fans after the film’s conclusion.
Hugo Weaving was the star of the supporting cast, however, with his portrayal as Great War veteran and Doss’ father tugging on heartstrings throughout thanks to a tortured performance by the V for Vendetta star. Weaving’s elder Doss knows the effects war has on those involved and watching him cope with both of his sons joining the war effort for what he perceives is little benefit to them personally, makes for some emotional viewing.
Look at the image up above. Credit goes to Mel Gibson for taking what was a somewhat uneven first half (uneven pacing, not a smooth transition from home life to war life) and transitioning to a second half featuring scenes on a battlefield that are both horrifying and visceral. It’s rare, very rare, for directors to make the opposition in a combat based film seem like characters in a horror film but that is exactly what Gibson accomplishes, using the occasional jump-scare and menacing fog to highlight just how soldiers on the battlefield experienced their opposition. The horrors of war were essentially on full display for the audience to see, with the aforementioned horror elements complemented by gory and visceral ramifications on the field itself, with brain matter oozing all over the place and limbs being torn off due to machine gun fire. This isn’t gory and visceral in a Quentin Tarantino film sense; rather, it’s exactly as you would picture war to be and that deserves a heap of praise.
You can’t experience the horrors of a battlefield without great sound to accompany the visuals and that is an area where Gibson’s crew shines brightly as well. From the appropriate foreboding music when the Japanese seek out wounded American soldiers to the horrifyingly realistic sounds of both weaponry cutting limbs and soldiers reactions to getting hit mean that you are assaulted (in a good way) both visually and by way of sound.
A lot of credit goes to the writing duo of Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, who create the perfect script for Gibson to get his hands on and top it off with appearances by the real-life Doss and some other characters in the credits scene.
I shall reiterate once again just how wonderful it is to have Gibson back in a more prominent position in Hollywood, hopefully with the demons of his past behind him. If Hacksaw Ridge is any indication, we are poised for a future filled with great films from the visionary director. I fully expect to see the film, Gibson, and Garfield in the conversation come awards season and highly recommend all to check out this film, as the tale of Desmond Doss is far too amazing to ignore.
The Film Lawyers are proud to grace Hacksaw Ridge with a grade of A- (8.7 / 10).