Film Review: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and Mel Gibson Shine a Light on Brutality and Service

hacksaw_ridge_ver2Say what you will about director Mel Gibson in regards to his personal life and choices he has made, but the guy knows how to make a movie, plain and simple. “Hacksaw Ridge,” his newest endeavor, has the Oscar-winning director of “Braveheart” mobilizing on the battlefield of World War II. While far from perfect, with a script that is as heavy-handed as anything you’d see in Sunday school church, Gibson ultimately extracts the human spirit and the fortitude that people are capable of.

“Hacksaw Ridge” tells the story of Desmond Dawes, a young man that enlists in the military during World War II. Due to his strong religious beliefs against killing, he refuses to hold – let alone use – a gun in any combat or training situation. From a potential court-martial for disobeying orders, to his actual time spent on the battlefield, where he rescued more than 70 men without firing a single bullet, the film is a testament to his life and the beliefs he encompassed.

Gibson’s work is assertive, enriching the screen with not only his singular vision of carnage, but with a self-reliant security for presenting his subject. Part of the film is as enthralling as any courtroom drama. As Desmond is beaten and bruised by his fellow soldiers, the commanding officers also weigh in with their insistence that he quit. Gibson’s biggest handicap is his forceful technique of putting Desmond’s ideals onto the audience. As a Catholic, you can relish in his faith and convictions, finding a bit of him to take away with you. The problem is, you feel browbeaten into the creed, as Bibles fly in and out of different scenes, and parents have what seem like unnatural conversations about the Ten Commandments.

hacksaw-ridge-2016-ryan-corr-vince-vaughnAndrew Garfield continues to progress as an actor, taking on diverse roles in his career. While “The Social Network” steal remains at this time of writing his best work, “Hacksaw Ridge” can comfortably sit behind it. His intensity and dedication cannot be ignored or faulted. He embodies the lifeforce and temperament of a true serviceman.

The love story’s foundation is unfortunately presented quite awkwardly. As Desmond meets his love interest, played by Teresa Palmer, feeling like a second coming of Reese Witherspoon, Garfield and Gibson choose to present Desmond as a creepy and obsessive adolescent. Gawking at a nurse at her job, then on a first date during a movie, before inappropriately and unwieldly stealing a kiss afterwards seems like something that would be a Dateline special today on first date etiquette and sexually predatory behavior.

Vince Vaughn as an army sergeant has good intentions but is played like the guy from “Wedding Crashers” playing dress up for a Mel Gibson movie. Let’s chalk that one up to a bad casting choice. Sam Worthington can’t seem to play anything but his “Avatar” character in any movie he steps into. Someone has got to get this guy voice lessons pronto. Hugo Weaving, as Desmond’s PTSD and alcoholic father, is respectable but not exactly enthralling.

“Hacksaw Ridge” really comes alive in its sound work. The team places us firmly in the battlefield – bullets, guts, blood and all. Richly layered, every mimic of the time is created to perfection. It’s something that will be hard for Oscar to overlook, much in the way “Apocalypto” and “The Passion of the Christ” were so opulent. A solid outing at the movies if you choose (and you should).

“Hacksaw Ridge” is distributed by Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment and will be released on Nov. 4

GRADE: (★★★)