Hacksaw Ridge

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Mel Gibson

Starring

Andrew Garfield Teresa Palmer Vince Vaughn

Anticipation.

Is this the time we forgive and forget Mel’s various atrocities?

Enjoyment.

Well no, but he’s back with a sizzling, heartfelt piece of misty-eyed Americana.

In Retrospect.

A sterling modern war picture with an intriguing moral twist.

Mel Gibson delivers an intensely brutal war movie with an intriguing moral twist.

It’s true, Mel Gibson does love to make movies about men who bare an uncanny resemblance to Jesus Christ. Hell, 2004’s pseudo-snuff aria The Passion of the Christ is directly about our lord and saviour, specifically how the horrific suffering he purportedly endured resembled an extreme French horror movie from the ’90s.

It transpires, though, that Gibson’s fervent religiosity does not mix well with alcohol, and following various verbal infractions of the racist/misogynist variety, he was sent to the Hollywood naughty step, to put it glibly. But now, the Aussie controversy magnet we all love to hate is back with a big bushy beard and, to make matters even more complex, he’s swaggered through the gate with the best film of his career under his arm. Hacksaw Ridge is a work of caustic earnestness, so much so that you might have to look a little harder to uncover its teasingly subversive core.

Andrew Garfield channels a pointedly emotional performance style redolent of saturated 1950s melodrama. He plays Desmond Doss, a peppy conscientious objector from Virginia who enlists in the US army to fight the Japanese hoards in Okinawa on the proviso that he can do so without the aid of a rifle. His peers find him to be a ridiculous prat. They believe he’s a liberal subversive trying to make a mockery of the time-honoured rite of spilling blood for king and country. Yet he is a true-blue patriot, and wants to express himself by helping his fellow man rather than turning him into a slurry of gore.

The title refers to a key tactical point at the top of a precarious cliff face. For those who peek their tin helmet over the lip at the top of a scramble net, it’s good night with a bullet. The first half of the film deals with Doss’ attempts to secure a post in the army that caters for his special moral objections, while the second is when we get to the dust-up. On a purely technical level, Gibson excels in just layering up ashes of visual excitement. His take on grunt-level warfare is pummelling and dirty. Human flesh tears, blood arcs and innards splay, and not purely for the purposes of visceral kicks, but as a psychological challenge to the survivors.

It might seem that Doss’ utterly selfless bravery on the field instantly equates him with Christ, but that’s not the case. Hacksaw Ridge is a film that lightly, nervously sketches the line between insanity and spirituality. Is it beyond the pale to believe that God exists as a personal protector? And if so, does that mean that dashing alone onto a battle field in the name of humanist duty is the wise thing to do? The thorny subject of drone warfare has become a recent staple of films about modern conflict, specifically the notion of killing while keeping your hands clean.

Hacksaw Ridge reveals that belief as a dangerous fallacy, suggesting that if you really want to destigmatise murder, this is the only way to do it. It’s Gibson’s strongest film because it is also his most ambiguous, unwilling to preach or draw trite comparisons between modern era deities and the fables of the Bible. It’s a fascinating story, told with a fire and urgency that some may construe as a little square. Even cinematic angel of death Vince Vaughn puts in a strong innings as a hard-nosed but essentially compassionate drill sergeant, so this may be the gift that keeps on giving.

Published 24 Jan 2017

Tags: Andrew Garfield Mel Gibson Oscars2017 World War Two

Anticipation.

Is this the time we forgive and forget Mel’s various atrocities?

Enjoyment.

Well no, but he’s back with a sizzling, heartfelt piece of misty-eyed Americana.

In Retrospect.

A sterling modern war picture with an intriguing moral twist.

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