Bravery, brutality and a test of blind faith – Mel Gibson’s directorial comeback Hacksaw Ridge carries him back to safety at the Venice Film Festival.
Gibson’s first film in ten years tells the story of Desmond Doss, a young skinny lad from Virginia who, due to his father’s (Hugo Weaving) violent and alcoholic depression from serving in the Great War, is opposed to violence and killing. However thanks to his moral outlook and urge to serve, he signs up to join the troops as a medic in WWII. The backdrop of this is a charming, beautiful love story with his sweetheart Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) who he promises to return to and marry on his first leave.
As he arrives for bootcamp, comic relief is found through Vince Vaughn as a drill sergeant who dishes out remarks such as “I have seen stalks of corn with better physiques,” making it feel like your standard army movie. But it is as we discover the extent of Doss’s role as a conscientious objector that the film takes its turn into more of an ethical drama than just another war movie. Threatened with a court martial, we are faced with two sides of the story – wanting to support our protagonist as he only signed up to be a medic and told he wouldn’t have to carry a gun, and the flip side of the army’s concern to want to protect their men in the hellfire of war.
As the case unravels, Doss is free to join his troops to hell on earth aka Hacksaw Ridge. Now, I should probably point out here that I have a love / hate relationship with war movies. When Saving Private Ryan came out on VHS I ran off to bed a mere few minutes into the opening beach battle scene and it took me and my brother about three Sunday afternoons to make it through to the end. Even Pearl Harbour kept me awake at night, but I’m a sucker for the story, the special effects and the fascination of the history. It’s here that we remember Doss was a real person and his story a true one.
The opening battle scene and those during the conflict sequences are very graphic, but shot in a very believable way, making you feel like you’re living through hell alongside the soldiers. With no weapon and no back up, Doss stays on the Ridge as the others retreat, and he single-handedly saves 75 men. It’s nail-biting, it’s tense, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat as part of you wants him to save another while the other is wishing he’d just climb down the ridge before he gets maimed by the Japanese.
Hacksaw Ridge is everything you want in a war movie – action, adventure and love story all wrapped into one, but what makes it so compelling is this moral dilemma and ethical choice that we follow throughout the film. Not once does Doss just give in and pick up a gun (apart from in an almost comical scene where he uses it to drag his commander to safety). This question of blind faith gives the audience a lot to think about and gives Gibson’s comeback a multi-layered angle which despite controversy, safely brings him back into the Hollywood playing field. The cast are also pretty damn good and Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Doss, Oscar worthy.
I jumped, I laughed, I wept – go see it and you’ll probably do the same.
Reviewed At The Venice Film Festival With Loose-Lips.com