Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Review #1,400

Director:  Mel Gibson
Cast:  Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer 
Plot:  WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Genre:  Drama / History / War
Awards:  Won 2 Oscars - Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing.  Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Sound Editing
Runtime:  139min
Rating:  M18 for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.
International Sales:  IM Global
Singapore Distributor:  Walt Disney Studios

“With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don't seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Mel Gibson directed another film within the next 2-3 years.  His filmography as a filmmaker has had a discernible pattern—The Man Without a Face (1993) and Braveheart (1995) were made one after another, then a nearly decade long break ensued, followed by the ‘double-bill' of The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Apocalypto (2006). 

His latest, Hacksaw Ridge, comes right after a lengthy break of similar length, marking a prosperous return to the full-throttle and highly visceral filmmaking style that he showed admirably in his last three pictures.  Hopefully with the professional respect earned from this film (not least the icing on the cake that is his Oscar nomination for Best Director), he could also put his chequered past behind him. 

Hacksaw Ridge tells of the little-known (well not anymore) story of Desmond Doss, who served in WWII as a medic, but refused to bear any arms due to his religion and firm personal belief that thou shall not kill.  At the Battle of Okinawa, he saved countless lives under extreme duress and bloodshed, and upon his miraculous return, was rewarded with the Medal of Honour by the US government. 

Doss’ story is truly remarkable, and continues Gibson's fascination with historical subjects—William Wallace and Jesus Christ are most identifiable in his work, albeit larger-than-life—whose unwavering faith and conviction in their values continues to inspire others.

2016 will be regarded as a breakthrough year for Andrew Garfield, who hasn’t really impressed me yet.  But Hacksaw Ridge (and I am sure Scorsese's Silence would too, which I haven’t seen at the time of this review) has changed my mind.  He gives an affective, sensitive performance as Doss, and is deservingly nominated for an Oscar. 

Shot in a studio in Australia, Hacksaw Ridge is executed with panache by Gibson and team, in particular its battle scenes, the first of which feels like a twenty-minute prolonged barrage of bullets piercing through Kevlar and flesh, enhanced by some of the finest sound work that I've heard from the class of 2016.  The film is as bloody as it comes, and is one of the more violent and gory war films out there, very much owing to Gibson's uncompromising approach. 

His dramatic staging of war is also infused with a huge dose of sentiment for old-fashioned heroism, no doubt exemplified by Doss' relentless courage, but also through the constant heroic and emotional music (by Rupert-Gregson Williams who takes many leaves out of Hans Zimmer's book) that for better or worse doesn’t let up.  If you are into the world that Gibson has constructed and packaged, you will find Hacksaw Ridge a terrific experience. 

Verdict:  Mel Gibson is back with a violent and gory war film, executed with typical visceral panache, and a huge dose of sentiment for old-fashioned heroism.


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