Mel Gibson’s war drama proves frustratingly uneven.
Mel Gibson is back in the director’s chair – and given his infamous anti-Semitic rants, one could be understandably wary of his World War II film, Hacksaw Ridge. Wisely, Gibson has chosen an interesting true story that thematically works as an act of atonement.
Andrew Garfield stars as Desmond Doss, a soldier who is also a conscientious objector. He refuses to touch a gun, but wants to act as a medic on the frontlines. Garfield, all awkward charm and puppy-dog eyes, brings a humanity and struggle to a character who wants to serve both God and his country.
The first half of the film acts as a moral drama about principle, as Doss struggles to be taken seriously within the army. Labelled a coward, Doss fights for the respect of his caustic drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn in Full Metal Jacket mode) and his peers. Cliches run rampant, including exposition-laden flashbacks that explain Doss’ views on violence.
But it’s the second half, where Doss is placed on the battlefield on the Japanese island of Okinawa, that Gibson’s powerful harnessing of both rage and contrition truly flourishes.
His evocation of war is terrifying and assaultive, a relentless explosion of screams and limbs and fire and blood. There’s no glorifying of violence, only fear and a brutality that illustrates the real stakes of Doss’ decision not to arm himself.
Featuring real footage of Doss and some of the soldiers he saved, Hacksaw Ridge is about men embracing different forms of power, other than machismo and hate. It’s a good film, not a great one – but a wise one for Gibson, and an interesting one for the current political climate.
Hacksaw Ridge trailer: