If Mel Gibson’s life were ever turned into a movie, Hacksaw Ridge would be his redemptive third act. After a number of personal controversies, the actor-turned-director has spent the last few years as a Hollywood outcast. But if his latest film (his first in ten-years) proves anything, it’s that regardless of his troubles, he is an extraordinary talent behind the camera. More than that, though, it manages to secure its place as one of the most powerful and touching war films ever made through its sinewy and raw depiction of battle and genuinely fascinating true story at its centre.
That true story belongs to Desmond Doss, a decorated army corporal who served as a medic in some of the most brutal battles of WWII against the Japanese. The remarkable thing about his service, however, is the fact that he did so without ever firing a single bullet due to his beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist; a set of beliefs that not only make him a target for the enemy, but for his own men as well.
“While everybody else is taking life, I’ll be saving it” says Andrew Garfield’s Doss as he faces court action for refusing to pick up a gun. His unflinching commitment and determination to uphold his religious beliefs, through adversity both on and off the battlefield, has all of the moral defiance of a James Stewart character in a Frank Capra film, and it’s this layer of spiritual conflict that proves to be the film’s most enthralling element.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see why Gibson would be drawn to such a project. He has, after all, become known for telling stories that are fundamentally Christian and which preach sacrifice in the face of torment; but with his own personal beliefs, Gibson also brings with him his terrifying skill in portraying on-screen violence.
From the opening sequence, Gibson does a fine job of proving that William Tecumseh Sherman was indeed right when he said that “war is hell”. As human fireballs fly through the air, some of their former limbs heading in a completely different direction, Gibson’s direction pulls no punches when it comes to the brutal violence of the battles that take up the best part of the film’s final half. And if that sounds bad enough, things only get worse from there.
There’s a moment in which Doss accompanies his fellow soldiers as they attempt their first capture of Okinawa which, for the first time in a long time, made my jaw involuntarily drop out of sheer shock. A battle cry in the truest sense of the word, my jaw remained near the floor for the following hour of bullets, fire and blood. This is solidly made, palm-sweatingly tense and visceral stuff that you feel in your stomach and which makes you want to turn away at times from the sheer truthfulness of it.
But overall, the message behind Hacksaw Ridge is an overwhelmingly positive one and I found myself leaving the cinema surprisngly uplifited. Through all of the bloodshed and dirt, love and humanity are the things that shine through most of all. Doss himself says at one point, “With the world tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together”, and it’s that kind of philosophy that we could all do with right now in these darkest of times.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com