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Mel Gibson can direct. There are things he cannot do… perhaps like be a normal human being, but direct? That he can do and do very well.
Hacksaw Ridge is the most beautiful, ugly movie I have experienced in a very long time. If you’ve seen the preview, you know what’s coming before the movie begins: brutal war violence staged by a master purveyor of such images.Gibson is a terrific director, to be sure, but no one can accuse him of being a subtle one. His action is widescreen. It is graphic and visceral and, though his camera does not linger too long on the bloody action he creates, he is making a point: war is hell – it is disgusting and it rends bodies. What is beautiful about the movie is not its violence, but the idyllic scenes that Gibson films before the war images begin. The movie opens as something of an ode to rural America and the people who live in it. It’s a lovely image and the juxtaposition of these two concurrent worlds is very effective.
Perhaps Gibson has directed another Best Picture nominee. Such recognition of this film would not be a surprise.
Andrew Garfield stars as Desmond Doss, a patriotic American who knows he must sign up to serve his country in World War II, but refuses to carry a gun. He signs up as a medic and, when he is assigned to a combat unit and is ordered to use a sidearm, his refusal to do so leads to a court martial trial. Moreover, it leads to bullying, misunderstanding and recrimination. Long before Doss gets to war, he has suffered for his beliefs, he has bled for them and he has had to come to terms with them. Garfield is more than capable of carrying the film. Charismatic and convincing, his performance as Doss is terrific. The audience wants to root for him and does throughout the film.
Hugo Weaving is, likewise, excellent as Doss’ father. A former soldier haunted by his experiences in World War I, the elder Doss wants to protect his sons from his fate, and that fate includes the alcoholic, abusive emptiness that sometimes haunts military men who lost something of themselves at the front. Weaving is very effecting.
Other characters, including Teresa Palmer’s Dorothy, Doss’ wife and Sam Worthington’s Captain Glover are not as completely drawn, but are, nonetheless, support the main narrative very well. Vince Vaughn is on hand to provide some relief from the more serious proceedings around him and, in the hands of a different actor, his role could quickly become grating. Vaughn balances the needs of the part with the gravity around him very nicely. The rest of the ancillary characters serve their function well, the move the story forward without taking focus from what’s really at stake: the journey of a conscientious objector through the terror of war.
Terror is the right word. When the third act begins and the battle is joined, the movie assaults the senses and the soul. As Garfield navigates the battlefield, gathering the wounded and saving as many as he can, one must wonder what Gibson is doing. After years as Hollywood’s action star poster child followed by years as an outcast, is Hacksaw Ridge something of an apology for the director’s sins of his past?
The answer to the question might be interesting, but, in the end, it’s not terribly important.
What is important is how good this movie is. Never dull, never slow, Hacksaw Ridge is an inspired piece of film making telling an inspiring story. Actually, as it turns out, the screenplay had to tone down Doss’ true heroics as the concern was audiences would not believe what the real Doss really did. That’s stunning, because what the movie Doss does brings an audience to its feet.
Hacksaw Ridge is a great movie.
HACKSAW RIDGE receives FIVE WOUNDED SOLDIERS out of a possible FIVE.