A decade or so ago, having Mel Gibson’s name atop a movie poster was considered a major selling point. After years of racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic slurs, however, Gibson is now better known as He Who Must Not Be Named. Just look at the advertisements for Hacksaw Ridge, which have tiptoed around the fact that Gibson directed the picture. We certainly shouldn’t let Gibson off the hook for his unspeakable behavior, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should overlook his filmmaking aptitude. Much like Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, Hacksaw Ridge is a great movie from a controversial man. If you can separate the artist from the art, though, you’ll find one of the year’s most enriching cinematic experiences.
Much like Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, Hacksaw Ridge is a great movie from a controversial man.
With the makings of a young Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper, Andrew Garfield plays Desmond T. Doss, an all-American man who lives by The Good Book. Although Desmond wouldn’t hurt a fly, he can’t stand idly by when World War II breaks out. He decides to enlist as an army medic, but refuses to pick up a firearm. Since Desmond is unwilling to take another person’s life, many of his comrades view him as a coward. Despite being labeled as a conscientious objector, Desmond eventually makes it to the Battle of Okinawa where he rises up as one of America’s bravest souls.
Garfield’s portrayal of Desmond easily could have come off as too corny and romanticized. Yet, he brings a great deal of sincerity to role and creates a three-dimensional human being. Teresa Palmer is equally likable as Desmond’s fiancé Dorothy, who supports her future husband while also fearing for his well-being. Even Desmond’s brothers in arms emerge as identifiable characters.
Sam Worthington’s Captain Glover might not be the nicest guy, doing everything in his power to make Desmond go home. Yet, we can understand where he’s coming from, as Desmond could be seen as a risk to the mission. Vince Vaughn gives his best performance in years, providing some welcome comedic relief as Sergeant Howell. The underrated Hugo Weaving is especially effective as Desmond’s father, who is still haunted by his own days in the military. He may be an abusive alcoholic, but he does love his son and will stand up for him when push comes to shove.
Being a Mel Gibson film, you’d expect this true story to be wall to wall with blood and gore. The first half of Hacksaw Ridge is more along the lines of A Few Good Men, though, focusing on characters rather than battles. Of course when these characters finally see action, there’s a genuine emotional investment and sense of dread. Gibson pulls no punches, delivering several sequences that definitely earn comparison to the opening of Saving Private Ryan. However, the gritty imagery never distracts from the film’s themes regarding faith, compassion, and standing by your morals.
Desmond not only makes good on his vow to never fire a gun, but he also manages to save 75 of his fellow soldiers during battle. Where everyone else retreats, Desmond just keeps going like a regular Captain America. There are many people out there that claim to be religious, but ultimately find themselves preaching hate-filled stupidity. Desmond on the other hand, actually takes the Bible’s teachings of love and mercy to heart, applying these lessons to his everyday life. He doesn’t force others to share his beliefs either. Rather, his positive actions simply influence others to be good people. In many ways, this is a much better movie about religion than Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which was more about how Jesus died as apposed to have he lived.
In many ways, this is a much better movie about religion than Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which was more about how Jesus died as apposed to have he lived.
Hacksaw Ridge might be an anti-war film above all else, but it doesn’t solely rely on violence and shock value to get its message across. It balances out the horrors of war with a lot of inspirational and even humorous moments. At the center of everything is Garfield as Desmond, who proves that you can be a symbol of hope without jeopardizing your ethics or becoming a martyr. You wouldn’t think that a movie about peace and harmony would come from the likes of Mr. Gibson, but maybe this means there’s still some humanity in Hollywood’s most notorious figure.