Hacksaw Ridge review: by Rob Stoakes
UK certification: 15
Mel Gibson is not a name I expected to see in Oscar Season. Not because his films are bad, mind, far from it. It’s just that he’s in that category of filmmakers shared by Roman Polanski and Lars Von Trier. Because of their reputations outside of their work, any appraisal of their career comes with more asterisks than a French comic book shop.
Gibson’s career homicide, in particular, seemed so devastating that he could invent a machine that cured diabetes with warm hugs and his obituary would still credit him as “The messiah-complex bigot who admitted to strangling toasters, don’t hatefully glare too much at the picture above or his madness may infect you.”
But say what you want about the stories he chooses to tell, at least he can tell them in compelling ways, and Hacksaw Ridge is a very solid film primarily because of Mel Gibson’s direction; the way he can frame his shots, pull out great performances and structure his narrative. Clearly hiding from the spotlight for a while hasn’t cost Gibson his touch.
It’s a war movie, and a Gibson directed one at that, so two incredibly formulaic styles fuse together to create Formulon, Defender of the Cliche! A simple, good-hearted and physically unimpressive farmer who loves his God almost as much as being beaten up joins the army as a medic. However, an aggressive drill sergeant, a surly general and his macho bully squaddies are confused by his shining morality that doesn’t fit in the harsh world of war.
Yep. Andrew Garfield is once again playing a holier-than-thou religious man who inspires through his endurance. Now, the subdued performance he gave in Silence got a bit lost, but here, with all of the bombast and booms, Garfield’s subdued tone actually works as a nice realistic anchor and fits this film much better.
And his is not the only good performance, either. I was surprised that Vince Vaughn, normally to drama what a grenade is to dental surgery, actually stole the show to an extent, and Hugo Weaving isn’t in the film much but says volumes just through his presence and cadence.
The visual storytelling is quite strong as well. The story starts in the hypothetical cross of Kansas and Winnie the Pooh’s fever dreams, with golden grass and blue skies and every piece of clothing being a bright pastel colour, until the war starts and everything goes grey, except for the flashes of red when the soldiers misinterpret the meaning of interior decorating and decorate the battlefield with each other’s interiors.
Right, it’s what you knew we’d get to. Let’s get down to the grisly details about the… umm… grisly details. Vampires don’t have as much of a fascination with blood as Mel Gibson, and if there’s one place that it makes perfect sense, it’s a war film. Plus, the story is about how faith in God drove a real life man to endure the most horrific circumstances possible to save the wounded. Showing that horridness in an as nasty way as possible is a very good way to visually carry that across…
… and then the asterisks rear their ugly head, and the way the camera lingers on each intestine or bone fragment suggests that Gibson was salivating while filming it, which undermines the point of the film a tad if I’m being generous. I’m sure for the more squeamish amongst you this will be really hard-hitting and emotionally engaging, but for me, it looked like a depressing Itchy and Scratchy cartoon.
Still, Hacksaw Ridge is very much proof that Mel Gibson hasn’t missed a beat. Let’s hope he solely talks about his movies from now on.
Budget: $40 million/Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams/Length: 139 minutes