After a 10 years hiatus and no less amount of controversies, Mel Gibson makes his long-awaited return to the director’s chair and immediately lets his presence felt & relevance known to everyone, for his latest is a biographical war drama that depicts the horror of warfare in all its glory yet captures it in a manner that highlights the film’s anti-war themes with clarity. A second coming of sorts for the acclaimed actor-turned-director whose recent past has been an endless series of scandals, Hacksaw Ridge finds Gibson attempting to redeem himself, recover his foundering image, and revive his prominence in Hollywood once again.
Set during World War II, Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss, a God-fearing pacifist who enlists in the army to serve as a medic but refuses to carry a firearm and becomes the first conscientious objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor without ever firing a shot. The plot covers his upbringing in Virginia and a traumatic incident in the childhood that shapes up his religious views & anti-killing stance for life, his blossoming relationship with a nurse at a hospital, and his training at a military facility where his convictions are challenged by his peers & superiors, and his service above & beyond the call of duty in the Battle of Okinawa.
Directed by Mel Gibson (best known for Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ & Apocalypto), Hacksaw Ridge opens with a brief preview of what’s waiting ahead before taking a step back to pave the necessary groundwork. The first act that covers Doss’ early years & budding romance feels like a chore but the plot begins to pick up once he leaves for his training where he is grilled by everyone for blatantly refusing to touch a weapon, and once the soldiers are on the battlefield, Gibson unleashes hell on screen. His direction is outstanding, exhibits no loss in form & finds the returning filmmaker making excellent use of his skill set to stage one of the most harrowing depictions of warfare in recent memory.
The screenplay keeps its focus on Desmond Doss & his actions at all times while different characters simply weave in & out of his journey. The romance subplot, however, feels somewhat unnecessary and could’ve been skimmed through or skipped entirely. The events that unfold at the training facility pay its homage to Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket but is overdone at times. In short, the first hour has its share of highs n lows but the next half is an absolute perfection that puts Doss’ faith & anti-war stance to the ultimate test. The character’s journey is highly compelling but it’s good to see that the writers didn’t ignore the rest of the supporting characters and do a competent job at arming most of them with meaty personalities.
Like every Mel Gibson film, the technical aspects are executed with panache and brilliantly assist in enriching the whole experience. Production design team does a fabulous job at recreating the required timeline and meticulously refines its set pieces with period-specific details. Cinematography utilises the camera to great effect and employs right movements & techniques at right times to capture the unfolding set of events, thus further magnifying their impact in the process, and is at its finest in the final hour. Editing is skilfully handled and paces the plot at a steady rate although there are a few scenes in the first half that it could’ve done without. And last but not the least, the background score maintains a firm grip on viewers’ emotions and is always in sync with the accompanying visuals.
Coming to the performances, Hacksaw Ridge packs a capable cast in Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving & Teresa Palmer, with Garfield carrying the entire film on his shoulders. Despite coming off as a creepy nice guy in the beginning, the young actor is able to finish things on a high and his rendition of Desmond Doss may very well be his best work to date. Bracey is in as Smitty, the alpha male of Doss’ squad and delivers a strong performance in the given role. Weaving plays Doss’ alcoholic father who never recovered from his First World War experience and does a fine job at it. Vaughn gets to have the most fun of them all, playing the part of Sgt. Howell, but ends up going overboard at times. Worthington doesn’t get enough screen time while Palmer plays Doss’ girlfriend and contributes with an apt input.
On an overall scale, Hacksaw Ridge is undeniably one of the most vicious, violent & unrelenting exhibitions of war on the film canvas that presents Mel Gibson in no-holds-barred mode, and delivers a cinematic experience that packs such raw, visceral power that it will have its viewers gasping for breath & hiding for cover amidst all the mayhem & massacre that explodes on the screen in the final hour. The carnage on display here is just as breathtaking as it is disquieting, for blood, bullets & limbs start flying in all directions the moment those soldiers step on the battlefield but despite revelling in unflinching brutality, the film never for once discards its pacifist themes. A swashbuckling return to prominence for Mel Gibson, and another mind-blowing entry in the long list of Second World War-related fables, Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best films of 2016 that truly earns its spot amongst the greatest examples of warfare filmmaking. An instant classic in every sense of the word. Strongly recommended.