Mel Gibson returns with brutal war film

Lars Torres, Staff Reporter

It has been 10 years since Mel Gibson’s last directorial effort. “Apocalypto” graced theater screens back in 2006. Mel Gibson has been slowly but surely making a comeback in Hollywood, initially with his acting in various features from “Get the Gringo” in 2012 to this year’s “Blood Father.”  Now he is returning to directing, this time by taking on the story of American war hero and conscientious observer/pacifist Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), and his heroics during World War II, where he earned the Medal of Honor for saving over 75 soldiers in the heat of battle.  It is truly a welcome return for Mel Gibson behind the camera.

“Hacksaw Ridge” follows Doss, the son of a World War I veteran, from his joining the Army in the late stages of World War II.  He does not want to stay safely at home, reaping the benefits of the struggles and sacrifices of other men fighting overseas. However, Doss, a devout Seventh-day Adventist, is unwilling to take a life, and becomes a combat field medic after learning from his fiance Dorothy Schutte (Theresa Palmer).

Doss’ views put him at odds with the rest of his regiment, including Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), and Smitty Riker (Luke Bracey). None of this phases Doss, who, after much humiliation and almost being court-martialed for his views, is able to go into battle without a single weapon to protect himself.

This film is not for the squeamish.  If you are well versed in Mel Gibson’s directorial filmography, you will understand that his films, including this one, do not shy away from blood and gore.  For the first hour, the film has a bright disposition as it develops Doss’s character and provides decent chemistry between all the actors.  

However the first hour does not prepare you for the brutal intensity of the next hour, with blood, guts and more being shot off and blown apart, putting the opening of “Saving Private Ryan” to shame. During these sequences, the cinematography and direction make you feel as if you’re a part of the battle on the massive titular ridge.

The acting performances all around are good, with some surprises coming from Bracey and Worthington, who in this film showed their capabilities. Garfield is excellent in the role of Doss, conveying a southern charm and sweet care for the world around him as it is falling down.  The true standouts have to be Vaughn and Hugo Weaving, who plays Doss’s father. Vaughn performs beyond expectations as Doss’s drill sergeant and commanding officer, adding much needed levity and wit to the film’s training and battle scenes. Weaving is fantastic as Doss’s father, as he attempts to convey a sense of love and sympathy to his son while still being haunted by his time at war and unable to shake off his abusive and alcoholic tendencies.

The film has been described as an anti-war film, and that is clearly expressed through the main character, Doss. The film is powerful in its message against the brutality of war. The whole film is unflinching. The performances, writing, direction and bombastic score help convey both a feeling of despair and the prospect of hope.  Mel Gibson has proven he has still got what it takes, having crafted without a doubt one of the finest films of the year.

Film: “Hacksaw Ridge”

Director: Mel Gibson

Release Date: Nov. 4

Rating: 5 out of 5