After directing the acclaimed Apocalypto (2006), due to legal issues, Mel Gibson’s life turned into chaos, which might be the reason why he disappeared from Hollywood and film industry. It all changed in 2014, when Bill Mechanic (Producer of Coraline, The New World, Dark Water) gave Gibson the Hacksaw Ridge script. Following the read, Gibson thought it was a compelling project, especially since it was based on a true story, and – as Gibson said himself in various interviews – he thought that by bringing his visual to it, as well as an extraordinary ensemble of actors, he could create a film that would be, at the base of it all, a study of heroism, profound patriotism and showing a thought-provoking fight for one’s beliefs. And so Mel Gibson returned to directing – fortunately for him, with a mind-boggling war drama.
Hacksaw Ridge depicts the story of Desmond Thomas Doss (a sublime performance by Andrew Garfield), an American combat medic. The audience follows the soldier’s account from the moment he enlisted to the U.S Army, through his hard physical training and until the day when Desmond single-handedly saved 75 fellow soldiers from a battlefield. Is the new Mel Gibson film on the scale of Braveheart, Passion of the Christ, or the superb Apocalypto? I can assure you that Hacksaw Ridge is a big production; not as big as the previously mentioned films, but equally ferocious.
Originally from Virginia, Desmond is raised as a Seven-day Adventist and for that reason, he refuses to bear arms during his time in the army, particular on a battlefield: “I am here to save lives (…), not to kill people,” states the hero. While at the army barracks, Desmond is treated with suspicion and contempt, and is accused of cowardice by some of the soldiers, including Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) and Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn), who is harsh to Desmond, but, when the time comes, also shows his compassionate side. One would think that the medic is a madman; after all the abuse that he experiences, he still stands faithful to his convictions. He does not want to compromise his integrity and beliefs (the audience might see him as a gentle warrior); as a result, he is accused of insubordination and forced to face a Court Martial. Luckily, his father Tom Doss (a natural and very credible performance by Hugo Weaving) – who is also a war hero – comes to his rescue and presents the court with a letter saying that every American citizen has a constitutional right to have his own beliefs and that no one should – in any way – take that right away. With the blessing of the Court Martial, Desmond is set free and allowed to finish his training and to go to battle without a weapon.
A few months before the end of the World War II, Desmond and his division are sent to Okinawa, to fight against the Japanese Army, and this is where – for the first time – the medic experiences a carnage and sees the true picture of human brutality. Even in the face of the ferocious battle, Desmond does not give up and, while risking his own life, he decides to save as many soldiers as possible – it was recorded by the man himself that while praying, he asked God: “Just one more, let me find just one more.”
We shouldn’t forget about Gibson’s deep fascination with blood-spilling; just by watching his previous productions, it is easy to notice that he likes that kind of cinema: brutal and as realistic as possible. Here, in Hacksaw Ridge, the violence is yet again devoid of subtlety, with fallen soldiers drenched in mud and blood. Gibson, in a very detailed way, shows limbs being torn apart and soldiers being brutally killed. The film director said that he didn’t use too much CGI as he wanted for the film to look realistic. Almost all battle scenes were done without CGI but with a camera, choreographed and designed by a bunch of great special effects guys.
In the era of ubiquitous callousness and violence, Mel Gibson’s film confirms again the horrible truth about war. It also shows that in the days of total dehumanization and disappearance of all moral codes, we can keep our own humanity and remain in harmony with ourselves. Even though Hacksaw Ridge is a war drama with an extremely strong imagery, the film also fills people’s hearts with hope: with persistence and perseverance, everyone can achieve a lot – Desmond is the perfect example of it!
It is difficult not to be impressed by Gibson’s efforts and determination in conveying Desmond’s story with the film. The filmmaker also encourages the viewers to reflect on what each of us could do if we found ourselves in a similar position. It is not only a film about the brutality of a war, but it also paints a gripping picture of a family (Desmond’s complex relationship with his father), love (the medic’s subtle love story with his wife-to-be Dorothy played by Teresa Palmer), faith, forgiveness and above all, a man whose convictions are put to the test.
The audience will also hardly feel that the film is over 120 minutes long – which already tells a lot about Gibson’s extraordinary talents in keeping his viewers immersed while watching his films. I loved every minute of the film, it kept me on the edge of my seat! Hacksaw Ridge, undoubtedly, is Mel Gibson’s return ticket to Hollywood.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Pandemonium Films and Permut Productions