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Film Review: Hacksaw Ridge

4 February 17 words: Ashley Carter

Mel Gibson's latest effort from the director's chair is in cinemas now. 

In the current climate of liberal zealotry and obsessive career-ending witch-hunts, you can’t help but be impressed that Mel Gibson is still going. He publically called a female police officer “sugar tits” while being arrested for drunk driving, wished rape upon his wife (whilst chastising her for not sufficiently fellating him and referring to her breast implants as “fakers”), blamed the Jews for all of the world’s problems and used racial slurs against pretty much every single colour and creed on planet earth. Any one of these seemingly countless incidents would have ended the career of most, but crazy ol’ Mel just sucked it up, grew a huge beard and fucking beat on, boat against the current. 

As a director, his output is bizarrely successful. Braveheart won five of the ten Oscars it was nominated for, The Passion of the Christ remains both the highest grossing R-rated film in the United States, and the highest-grossing non-English language film of all time, and Apocalypto, another huge box office success, remains relentlessly watchable. His films are identifiable by their simplicity, their huge box office takings, and their heavy focus on extreme violence. And Hacksaw Ridge is no exception. 

It’s a biographical war drama about Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an American combat medic and pacifist who refused to carry a weapon during World War II. Serving in the Pacific Theatre, which involved some of the bloodiest combat of the conflict, Doss became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor for service above and beyond the call of duty. 

It’s during the large-scale battle scenes that Gibson’s directorial trademarks are witnessed most clearly.  Never one to shy away from the carnage, he depicts the battles between Japanese and American soldiers as chaotic, barbaric and savage. However, his major downfall as a filmmaker lies in his inability to develop past the simplistic. So while the battle scenes are visually impressive, the lack of character development that precedes them ensures they have no real emotion, and are often left with little more impact than the cartoonish violence of certain horror films. 

Being presented with a story that naturally lends itself to exploring the human side of combat, Gibson constantly relies on the all-too-familiar guts and glory tropes of the war film genre. American soldiers make heroic sacrifices, bravely gaining ground from the nameless, faceless Japanese enemy. What could be a condemnation of the violence almost becomes a celebration of blood and bullets. 

Andrew Garfield does a decent job as Doss in what is frankly a pretty poorly acted film. Vince Vaughan is a strange casting choice, and the usually decent Hugo Weaving disappoints in a scenery chewing turn as Doss’ father. Gibson’s religious obsession also does far more damage to what could have been a solid war film, with Doss’s Christ-like appearance on the battlefield, as he saves dozens of fallen soldiers hammered home heavily – never more awfully then when he is finally stretchered away (having Di Canio kicked a grenade out of mid-air), with his battered body lifted by rope and lowered down to safety. Gibson shoots from below, giving him the appearance of a saint being lifted to the heavens, which is every bit as nauseating as it sounds.  

Hacksaw Ridge can safely take its place in Gibson’s canon of work with its emotionally one-noted hyper-violence, obsession with warfare, heavy-handed religious overtones, huge box office takings and unexplainable Oscar nominations. If you’re short on time and reluctant to check it out, just stick on the scene in Forrest Gump where he rescues Bubba from the woods in Vietnam. Same difference. 

Hacksaw Ridge is in cinemas now.

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