Hacksaw Ridge, A-
Rated R, 138 minutes
"Hacksaw Ridge" is the new graphically violent yet affecting, superbly- acted new war film that tells the remarkable true story of a conscientious objector in World War II who saved 75 men without firing or even holding a gun. "Hacksaw Ridge" is one of the year's best films and one of the most compelling war films of recent memory; it's also directed by "Passion of the Christ's" Mel Gibson, and if you think this doesn't provide some sort of personal redemption for Gibson's past (and drunken) actions, think again. It's a sublime effort that's better than his Oscar-winning "Braveheart" (a vastly overrated, dated tale by now) and an impressive technical achievement on par with Spielberg's 1998 seminal war film, "Saving Private Ryan" though it still plays into Gibson's ongoing fascination with graphic violence.
The film is based on the true story of US Army medic Desmond T. Doss (played by Andrew Garfield). Doss was a Christian (Seventh-day Adventist) conscientious objector who refused to bear arms, yet was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman for single-handedly saving the lives of over 75 of his comrades while under constant enemy fire during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II.
Highly entertaining and touching, Gibson's "Hacksaw Ridge" isn't for the faint of heart, and unsurprisingly, its deftly handled Okinawa battle scenes are the chief reason to see it. It's a shoo-in for nominations in the technical categories, but some of its ensemble cast is worthy for accolades too, especially for Garfield's subdued, textured performance as Doss, a true war hero if there ever was one, as well as Vince Vaughn - yes that Vince Vaughn of low-brow comedies, who is surprisingly believable and effective as Doss's tough-talking commander.
Written by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, "Hacksaw Ridge" spends a little too much time on Doss's backstory with his parents (Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths), not to mention the corny lovestory with his future wife (Teresa Palmer); as well, many of Doss's comrades are easy stereotypes often seen in war films, though Garfield's strong turn grounds "Hacksaw" well with sympathy and intelligence, which could've easily gone the way of "aw shucks" Gomer Pyle-like impressions given to a lesser actor.
The stunning battle scenes are the film's hallmark, and Gibson handles them with an impressive hand, along with solid photography and music by Simon Duggan and Rupert-Gregon Williams that add to the heft of the film. Just know that going into "Hacksaw Ridge" what to expect with these scenes: loads of graphic, extremely intense violence, with blood and guts all over the place (and that's no joke, literally), so if this sorta thing bothers you, you may want to admire Doss's story and the film from afar.
It's clear by now that Gibson loves violence, but at least "Hacksaw Ridge" has a truly compelling story behind it, and he doesn't let you forget that. Also watch for Gibson's lookalike son Milo in a small role as one of Doss's fellow soldiers, and the sentimental coda, with the real Doss explaining of his actions, is sure to elicit some tears. The powerful, intense and compelling "Hacksaw Ridge" is a worthwhile effort, and if it's part of Gibson's redemption then so be it, but for his next movie something a little less bloody may be in order.