Despite courting some controversy throughout his career Mel Gibson has proven himself to be a pretty competent film director. Hacksaw Ridge shows off his talents at directing large scale battles (as he also showed in Braveheart) but he flounders slightly in the build up to the brutal second half of the film. Hacksaw Ridge tells its story in a way that most have come accustomed to in such a genre (a love interest, his fellow squad members slow build a growing respect for him despite making him a target of bullying at the start are staple parts of the genre). The film it reminded me most of was Sergeant York (without the central hero killing the enemy) in which a simple country boy finds the love of his life, marries her and goes on to become a war hero.
The issues that plague Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge are in the film’s opening scenes, these are pretty cheesy and saccharine, and the religious elements are handled with about a much subtlety as a robber gaining access to a shop by falling through the roof. The lack of religious subtlety is an issue that has been prominent through Gibson’s career and the film itself. The romance aspect of the story doesn’t entirely work either as the opening scenes feel like a drag.
However, from the point Desmond Doss arrives at boot camp, Gibson shows his prowess as a director. From this point on Hacksaw Ridge is more reminiscent to Full Metal Jacket as Vince Vaughn does a surprisingly good job trying to emulate the iconic performance of R Lee Ermey in the aforementioned film. There’s also a lot of tension surrounding the impending court case (for refusal to follow orders) and there’s something quite inspiring in the way Desmond refuses to give up on his beliefs despite being the target of abuse from his fellow soldiers.
It the battle sequences, however, that Mel Gibson excels greatest. The war sequences are perhaps the most intense battle sequences since Saving Private Ryan with the dismembered limbs and guts spilling out uncontrollably on the floor making the sequences so unflinchingly brutal. Gibson isn’t coy about showing the brutal nature of war and the faceless nature of it as the Japanese soldiers are a faceless enemy. This is because the American soldiers were fed propaganda that fed them messages that the Japanese were subhuman, you wouldn’t get to know any enemy constantly depicted as evil and inhumane.
Despite getting off to a shaky start, Andrew Garfield does a good job in the central role even if he begins the film depicting Desmond as some sort of country bumpkin that somewhat jars with proceedings later on in the film. Still, it’s a worthy film of a brave man that salutes his bravery without glamourising war hero status too much. It’s an uneven film, let down by a slow opening act and heavy handed religious symbolism (the final shot is painful in its lack of subtly) but excels greatly in creating an inspiring central character and depicting brutally intense war sequences.