Director: Mel Gibson
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughan, Sam Worthington, Rachel Griffiths and Hugo Weaving
Running Time: 139 minutes
Release Date: January 27
Throw your stones at Mel Gibson the human being if you must, but there’s no denying that the man has presence.
One only needs look at the recent Blood Father, itself a more mature and muscular film than its Grindhouse-friendly title hinted at, to see that the oft-grizzled Australian still boasts the kind of lived-in authentic charisma that many modern stars simply do not possess, or at least fail to project. Upon witnessing Gibson in all of his scuzzy non-glory, you cannot help but wonder if Fury Road might have been better served with him reprising his iconic wasteland loner.
That raw power has reaped rewards behind the camera, too. His directorial efforts are all intensely captured and intriguingly flawed works, almost always centred on a morally upright, conflicted hero whose selfless devotion and welcoming of pain inspires those around him to seek and stride a greater path, upon which plenty of red has been spilt. Hacksaw Ridge fits right into this curious oeuvre like both velvet glove and iron fist; a further visceral illustration of the odd contradiction that occurs when a hardcore Christian approaches his canvas as might a bloodthirsty maniac.
This is the true story of Desmond Doss, a war hero honoured for saving the lives of a ridiculous number of his fellow soldiers while never so much as touching a weapon. Andrew Garfield plays Doss as a mix of Forrest Gump and Cameron Poe complete with ‘aw, shucks’ wide-eyed naivety and goofy grin, his formative years coloured by a clash of sunny hues and familial discord courtesy of Hugo Weaving’s violent, broken and booze-soaked World War I veteran.
Following a nascent near-tragedy, Doss learns to preach peace and love the lord. His eventual thinly-sketched band of brothers are less enamoured with such docile ways and thus begins a tense tale of defiance and ponderings on man’s inhumanity to man… at least until the second hour kicks off atop the titular stretch of high ground in Okinawa and Gibson trains his camera tight on crimson carnage with all the subtlety of a pornographer.
Herein lies Hacksaw Ridge’s most simultaneously brilliant and bizarre conceit as a film that works overtime to ponder the tragic and futile nature of war yet presents such conflict in truly spectacular fashion. The direction is almost loving; getting right up close as bodies and faces are ruined in the blink of an eye. One character goes so far as to hoist up half of a corpse as a run-and-gun shield like something out of Army of Darkness. Many die without ceremony. The enemy, meanwhile, are that and nothing more, never once afforded a single line of knowable dialogue let alone any kind of distinguishable traits other than screaming and killing, a far cry from Garfield’s other recent difficult trip to Japan.
To be fair to Hacksaw Ridge, it never goes full Lone Survivor in terms of jingoism, and it’s difficult to entirely know if its director gets off on the muck and the mire. What is certain is that his vision is incredibly effective and utterly relentless. Gibson set out to pay tribute to the kind of hero he may wish he could one day become while keeping an increasingly niche strain of bravura filmmaking alive – he even gets a dig in at a “cinematic landscape overrun with fictional ‘superheroes’” in the press notes – and Hacksaw Ridge accomplishes this aim absolutely, as befitting a man who deals in absolutes. Perhaps a middle ground might be worth exploring in the future, however.