Hacksaw Ridge Review
After a decade in exile, Mel Gibson comes out of the wilderness to deliver Hacksaw Ridge – a strong Best Picture/Director contender right out of the gate.Crafting an original war movie is something of a challenge these days, and arguably has been for quite some time, but the story of World War II veteran Desmond Doss is one that was certainly well worth telling. The stuff of legend - the kind of true story too unbelievable to pass for fiction - it takes us through the life of Doss as he grows through childhood to adulthood and eventually faces his ultimate challenge trying to get onto a battlefield, without a weapon.An almost ludicrous concept, Gibson lends weight to this bona fide conscientious objector through a painstaking portrait of what brought him to this place, and of what he is going to have to go through to stay true to his beliefs. Whilst, ostensibly, it feels like a movie enshrouded in heavyweight Biblical overtones, Doss's 'faith' transcends religious pigeon-holing, becoming a symbol for any inner belief that gives you the strength to weather the impossible.
Andrew Garfield doubles-down on his terrific, tortured performance in Scorsese's flawed but worthy Silence, rising to the challenge of playing a very different character, whose actions - and very beliefs - often go beyond what words could convey. In many ways it's actually something of a spiritual companion-piece to Silence, allowing Garfield to play an equally convicted soul, equally tortured by adversity in the extreme.
He's charming and sincere in a role that requires both in equal measure, with great chemistry opposite Teresa Palmer (Triple 9) and a convincing, conflicted, relationship with his father (a meaty supporting role for The Matrix's Hugo Weaving), whilst the Army provide a number of familiar supporting faces to colour his path, from an unlikely but competent (but for looking ridiculous, given his stature, wielding a tiny Sten gun) performance from Vince Vaughn as the Sergeant who puts the new recruits through their paces, and often elicits the most laughs in the process, to a more seasoned role for Avatar's Sam Worthington, to which he brings his A-game. Gibson's unusual cast suits the fare, and are perhaps better placed to populate this production than bigger names which would detract from the core story.
Hacksaw Ridge is one hell of a way to come out of the shadows
Of course, despite the anti-war messages (which come across loud and clear, not least from the narrative's conscientious objector angle, but also from the sheer horror on display), Gibson, to a certain extent, has his cake and eats it too, depicting some exquisite scenes of violence, gore, and bloody, mutilated death which punctuate a series of expertly staged skirmishes and battles on the blood-soaked ridge of the title. Yes, slo-mo appears to be his best friend, but he uses it well, and commands the screen - and, in turn, your attention - with the velocity and visceral impact of the attacks, each one a concussive wave that builds on its predecessor, until you're as overwhelmed as the men on the battlefield. Whilst his directorial hand on the build-up shows steady pacing and warm observation, and whilst he managed to wring some excellent performances out of an eclectic cast, it's Gibson's eye for military horror that stands out here.
Although he has made some thoroughly enjoyable smaller features during his exile (Get the Gringo is great fun, and highly recommended), and there was undoubtedly some trepidation about his full return to the limelight, Hacksaw Ridge is one hell of a way to come out of the shadows, and, even if it doesn't go beyond its Best Director/Best Picture nominations, that's still an impressive achievement that will hopefully only lead to more outstanding directorial works from him, which, on past evidence, can only be a good thing. Highly recommended.
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