Mel Gibson is undoubtedly a better director than he is an actor. His two most respected films, in my opinion, while on the director’s chair are Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ; two films heavily infused with gore as well as an unwavering loyalty to one’s beliefs. His most recent film, Hacksaw Ridge, continues this trend, and with, or because of it, we get an incredible war epic.
Hacksaw Ridge is the incredible true story of how Desmond Doss earned his US Medal of Honor for his noble efforts in the WWII battle of Okinawa. Desmond (Andrew Garfield) comes from a small town in Virginia, as a kid he swore off all violence after a near fatal accident with his brother. He manages to go through his adolescence without inflicting any pain on anyone. But as WWII rolls around, he feels obligated to enlist with the condition the he be solely a medic and not be required to take up any arms. Immediately during boot camp he is shunned by his platoon as well as his platoon Sergeant (a surprisingly good Vince Vaughn). Nevertheless, Desmond gets sent to the front lines where his faith in not harming a fellow man is put to the ultimate test.
I would be lying if I said this film didn’t move me, not so much in Desmond’s conviction to stick to his beliefs, but more of the portrayal of war, and how simplified human life looks through it. I was reminded more than once in the David Ayer film Fury, which also utilized grit and violence to promote an anti-bellicose message. In terms of the characters themselves, I found the writing to be incredibly smart. There is enough time in the beginning for there to be emotional attachments made; Desmond falls in love with a nurse played by Teresa Palmer. The romance might seem a bit rushed, but it does achieve its ultimate purpose of humanizing our character. Then the boot camp scenes provide us with many diverse soldiers we can later grow close to and see how they evolve into a tight-knit group. Finally at the battlefield, the two set ups prove crucial in delivering the emotional blow of the issuing bloodshed.
The acting in this film was on point. Andrew Garfield is perfectly cast as a young and innocent-looking boy who simply wants to be a good person and help as many people as he can. But I was also struck with the incredible performance of Hugo Weaving, who, if he only had had a bit more screen time, could have been vying for the Oscar; and Vince Vaughn, an actor who had never really manifested himself to be very capable, but who has proven us all wrong as he brings out a Full Metal Jacket-like drill Sergeant who is a core part of the film’s latter half.
In conclusion, Hacksaw Ridge is an incredibly moving epic and Gibson and his cast prove to be incredibly adept in bringing us a look at one of the greatest shows of courage in the face mankind’s worst moments.