Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

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Directed By: Mel Gibson

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Theresa Palmer, Sam Worthington

Review Author: Tony

Rating: 3.75/5 pints of Guinness

No one is to blame for Mel Gibson’s unsteady relationship with Hollywood other than Mel Gibson. Throughout his career, Mel has stirred controversy with his outspoken ways and drinking problem. While he certainly has said some truly vile and awful things I must confess I still love his films. It’s not easy to have a separate view on someone based on their occupation and their personal life, yet Mel’s films deserve praise and recognition.

Mel was on a lifeline after the 2006 drunken incident which had him fall out of grace with tinsel town yet in 2010 he made a comeback and everyone was ready to forgive and move on. This comeback was short-lived after a recording was released of Mel unleashing a racist tirade against his then wife. I still loved Mel at the time but I remember listening to the recording and I could hear the final nails being hammered into the coffin that was Mel Gibson’s career.

Gibson punched his way out of the coffin and came into 2016 swinging as the lead in the entertaining action romp Blood Father and then returning to the director’s chair for Hacksaw Ridge. All of a sudden he’s gone from being blacklisted to a nominee for best director at the 2017 Academy Awards.

I’ve seen Hacksaw Ridge twice now, the reason being that I needed to first see this film as a huge fan of Gibson and the war genre and then see it from a critical standpoint. The two viewings is the reasoning behind the delay in getting a review out for this but it should also be noted that it was only released in Ireland mid-January.

Hacksaw Ridge follows the true story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the medal of honour. Desmond is a young man who feels a strong connection to god and also his country. Feeling a strong sense of purpose and responsibility, Desmond signs up to The U.S army in their ongoing war with Japan. As a conscientious objector, Desmond refuses to bare arms or take another man’s life but instead chooses to overcome adversity and prejudice to stand for what he believes in.

The story behind the film is fascinating and it’s strange to not have seen this event in history adapted to the silver screen yet. Gibson has always been a great director and Hacksaw Ridge is a very engaging film with great performances by all the cast and an unforgiving and unforgettable second half that shows the true horrors of war and courage under fire. Unfortunately for me, it was a film of two halves.

I understand that in order to progress a story like this of a real life hero we need to get some background to the character, get an understanding of where he’s from and what drives him. The first half of the film is well acted and has some great moments but tonally it’s a far cry from the second half of the film. Maybe it’s my cynicism speaking but the first 40 minutes are incredibly schmaltzy as the film explores Desmond’s budding romance with his future wife Dorothy. I feel like Gibson was going for a more wholesome tone making the lead as likable and flawless as possible. I would have preferred if the film focused a little more on his father and the events that set him on his path as a conscientious objector.

Speaking of the father, Hugo Weaving gives a career best performance as Tom Doss, Desmond’s alcoholic veteran father. I didn’t even know Hugo Weaving was in the film but he was a true standout in an incredibly well-acted film. Even Sam Worthington and Luke Bracey have us actually care about their acting for once. Full credit has to go to Andrew Garfield who is mesmerizing as Doss unleashing an acting masterclass. It’s a shame that this year’s best actor nominations are so strong as any other year it would be Garfield’s award.

The film finds its footing once we get to the boot camp and we get to see Doss’s values challenged and attacked. He is labeled a coward by his superiors and finds himself at the brunt of his supposed comrades. From here on Hacksaw Ridge builds up a kinetic pacing that bulldozes forward. It’s when the bullets start flying that you remember your watching a Mel Gibson film. Easily the best battle scenes in the last decade, Hacksaw Ridge’s action is both visceral and harrowing. The gore is ramped up to 11 as men are ripped apart by both bullets and explosives fighting with everything at their disposal. it was in these fantastic scenes that I realised my biggest gripe with the film was that it was such a far cry from the first 40 mins of the film I was taken out of the experience a little.

While occasionally suffering from goofy moments (apparently a comrade’s upper torso makes for great cover) and a borderline cheese and crackers first half, Hacksaw shines as a great return to form for Mel. Headed by a strong cast and supporting some of the best battle scenes captured on film, Hacksaw Ridge is a great film about one of histories greatest heroes.

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