We all have moments we wish we could take back. Sometimes we lash out and say things we don’t mean, do something we did not think through, or act on ideas we should have left alone. For Australian-born Hollywood Icon Mel Gibson, that moment came around ten years ago, when he spewed several crippling anti-semitic comments during a drunken rampage. Having already been crucified for his controversial The Passion of the Christ film, Gibson’s rant sent his reputation over the edge, and for ten years, there seemed to be no real redemption for his once-promising acting, directing, and producing career. That is, until this year.
Finally, Gibson has released his newest directing project: Hacksaw Ridge, a World War II flick featuring the stunning true story of former Chattanooga resident, Desmond Doss. Doss, a conscientious objector who could not reconcile bearing arms and taking human life with his faith, served his country valiantly at the battle of Okinawa as a combat medic, never firing a single shot. His larger than life acts of faith and courage earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor.
For years, critics speculated whether Gibson’s comeback would even be possible, but as the initial screenings took place, pundits began to rave about Gibson’s direction with the film. Observer extolled the film saying that “Hacksaw Ridge is the best war film since Saving Private Ryan." After seeing the film for myself, I can honestly say that I believe Hacksaw Ridge is not only the best “since” Saving Private Ryan, but a film that quite frankly blows Private Ryan straight out of the water.
The film is powerful. The visuals are beautiful and stunning. The acting is on-point. There is no glaring weakness in the whole film. Andrew Garfield, playing the main character Desmond Doss, is quirky, lovable, and faithful. The beauty of some scenes can draw tears, especially when backlit by the deafening horror and chaos of war.
Critics’ unanimously positive take on the film is still quite surprising. First off, there is the obvious fact that the film is directed by Mel Gibson. The man has accrued so much hate and ridicule in the film industry, so it was surprising to see his work openly embraced. Gibson also lets Doss’ faith overtly shine through in the film, as Doss, a devout Seventh Day Adventist, was adamant that all the glory for everything that he did go God alone. Gibson removed misuses of God’s name and f-words from the film out of respect for the main character’s faith.
The film was also given a miniscule budget of 40 million dollars. In comparison, powerhouse hits like Saving Private Ryan required about an 80 million dollar budget 18 years ago. Still, the film manages to rise above its peers as Hacksaw Ridge has heart and soul. There have been many powerful war films, but Doss takes this film to a whole different level as a selfless, God-fearing hero willing to suffer unspeakable things for his country— even if those he fought for hurt and ridicule him.
The story is told expertly. At the beginning, several cringe-worthy awkward scenes develop Doss’s character through comic relief and pathos. When the battles begin, a jarring, brutal mood shift makes the viewer feel as if the reality of war personally trampled his innocence into the bloody Pacific beaches. Some of the gore in the first battle scene is truly disgusting, but after the initial shock, the horror tones down a bit. Gibson’s use of gritty realism heightens the stakes and drama of the rest of the film, as Doss, a scrawny, soft-spoken, country boy manages to save seventy-five of his fellow soldiers, both American and Japanese, in the face of hell on earth.
Gibson has made some bad moves in his lifetime, but there can be no denying his ability to make a stunner. The film takes its place among the greatest war films ever made, in my humble opinion. Hacksaw Ridge a compelling true story of courage, faith, and love, and may just be exactly what Gibson needed to bring his career back from the dead.