“Jeez, Mel!” I wanted to say this during every gory death and religious metaphor in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge.”
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is the only soldier in history to enter battle unarmed. His superiors (Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington) think he’s a self-righteous coward, but Doss proves his worth, saving 75 soldiers in Okinawa. It’s based on a true story.
As a lifelong Mel Gibson fan, I can separate art from artist. He is an artist behind the camera. “Hacksaw Ridge” is directed old-fashioned and colorful in its cinematography. Not a single shot of shaky cam is in play, even during battle sequences.
The battle scenes are relentlessly brutal and have horrific attention to detail. Between maggots and rats feasting on corpses, brain matter splattering on another soldier’s face, and dozens of men burned alive by a flamethrower, Gibson doesn’t restrain himself (he did direct “Braveheart” after all).
Gibson is also unrestrained with religious metaphors and symbolic shots, but I can forgive this overkill because Doss was a religious man. Doss doesn’t shoot, stab, or punch anyone. He bandages them and ropes them out of battle, praying to save one more each time.
Andrew Garfield delivers a career-defining performance as Doss, making him likable, questionable, and compassionate. He makes Doss’s fears and beliefs believable, whether he gives a monologue about saving the world or saving an enemy soldier.
It’s bold to produce a war movie that is about conscientious objectors rather than pro-combat soldiers, but that’s what makes “Hacksaw Ridge” great. It’s not for the faint of heart and Gibson haters will boycott it. Regardless, I strongly urge film-goers to give this ambitious war epic a shot.