by Kevin Muller
Despite what you may feel about him, Mel Gibson is one hell of a director. He gives his projects such a determined passion that isn’t really seen in movies today. It has been ten long years since he has been in the director’s chair, after controversial marks that nearly destroyed his career, and he has given us a war movie about hero Desmond Doss.
Doss was a recipient of Medal of Honor during World War 2. Even though most movies could be built around that, it is the story about who he was that got him that medal. As a child, Doss was exposed to violence through his abusive father messing with his mother and the pitting his brother and himself against each to learn how to fight. In one instance, he severely hurts his younger brother and it is the beginning of what will make him become the hero he is. Gibson has always had a bond with religion and the lord, so the story of this brave soldier is perfect material for him to both make a fantastic movie, which he certainly does, and show his inner peace. The Second World War is in full swing and Doss wants to contribute something to his country. Against the wishes of his father, whose abuse is the result of post-traumatic stress from World War 1, and the love of his life, he enlists. This is all fine and dandy, but there is one problem, Doss does not and will not pick up a weapon. He is what you call a consciousness objector. This is what makes this movie so thrilling on both a war and a personal level. His fight starts way before he steps on to that battlefield.
Andrew Garfield, who gave such emotional weight to the extremely cold movie, 2010’s “The Social Network,” seems like the obvious choice here. The British actor easily loses his accent and adopts a Southern drawl to become Doss. That said, this amazing performance, is more than just a change of accent. Garfield brings forth every struggle that comes with his decision to live the way he chooses, especially in war. How would you feel if your medic, which is the position Doss takes, went into war with you without a gun to protect you or himself? The first half of this movie, which takes place before the gruesome realities of war, shows us the consequences of his life choice. He is mocked, ridiculed, and beaten for stepping on to a military base without the desire to pick up a fire arm. The movie is all on Garfield’s shoulders and he just runs with it full force. He is so good that he makes us not hate him, like the rest of his squad, but envy his courage and sacrifice. There isn’t one ounce of phoniness or failure in his performance. The young actor embodies what a true hero is all about.
Gibson proudly displays his love of religion through the character. People mock Doss, but it doesn’t shake him. This is his path and he will walk it. Though the religious symbolism does get a bit much at times, you can’t help but to feel the true love that Gibson has for his subject. The study and trials which Doss has to go through makes such an interesting first half that we can’t wait to see what Gibson will bring to the second.
On top of religion, Gibson also loves his violence. In his 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ,” the blood and gore flew around like a Tarantino film, but it was grounded in reality. Though it was tamer in 2006’s ‘Apocalypto,” Gibson still made it the screen rain with blood. Well, his taste of carnage hasn’t disappeared, since it does get very brutal at points. The deaths are quick and have a take no prisoners type feel. While Spielberg kind of romanticized the violence in “Saving Private Ryan,” which is kind of funny to say, Gibson shows it raw. You also get a real sense of threat and danger through the scenes on Hacksaw Ridge. The soldiers do talk it up, but no verbal description can justify what both they and we see when it happens. As Doss’s squad arrives, bodies litter the ground acting as warnings of the most certain death ahead. Doss kind of takes a backseat for a short time while his comrades get picked off one by one. When he does arrive, his heart and dedication are tested. It is also those two qualities that give hope to the soldiers that feel like they sit in a place that it is vacant of promise. It is when Doss starts to rescue people using his wit that the movie is a thrill ride. Garfield clings so hard to the religious dedication of the character. His cries for answers from God don’t seem cheesy but genuine and honest. It makes his mission even more personable.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is a major achievement for a director that was almost done in Hollywood. It shows that Gibson still has it. Though the second half isn’t as strong as the first, it still is an honest, true, and unashamed portrait of the power of religion. It also works because it contains such a true performance from its lead. The religious aspect isn’t done manipulatively, but with honor and love. It is what gives the movie its identity outside of the war aspect of it