Title: Hacksaw Ridge
Country: Australia, USA
Genre: Biography, War, Drama
Director: Mel Gibson
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cinematography: Simon Duggan
Goran D. Kleut
Ten years has fleetingly passed since Mel Gibson’s last directorial outing APOCALYPTO (2006), HACKSAW RIDGE is his fifth feature in the director chair, just debuted in Venice, out of competition. It is a WWII drama about the US war hero Desmond T. Doss (Garfield), who is, quoting the film’s tagline, one of the greatest heroes in America History never fired a bullet, is it an undisguised retort to Clint Eastwood’s trigger-happy AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)?
Desmond’s persuasion of refusal to kill people is ingrained by his religious upbringing and cemented by one childhood incident when he accidentally injured his brother during a tussle. In peace time, it is a precept without any question for every citizen to follow suit, but, not during wartime when massive killing obviously becomes a default means pumped up by jingoism and triggered by human’s violent nature.
Instead of being a conscientious objector, Desmond volunteers to join the army as many young men of his time, driven by patriotic enthusiasm, even though his father Tom Doss (Weaving, strikingly upstages his co-stars with searing potency) is a WWI veteran and has been traumatized by his encounter with savagery ever since. and doesn’t think Desmond’s ideology can find a toehold in the army. But Desmond has his own plan, galvanized by his romance with nurse Dorothy Schutte (Palmer), he decides to enlist as a medic, to save lives instead of taking them, so that he doesn’t need to relinquish his principle.
As one can imagine, his singularity is regarded as an unthinkable defiance in the eyes of his peers and his senior officials in the boot camp, he is picked on, verbally abused, beaten up, even subjected to imprisonment, simply because he refuses to touch a rifle or any lethal weapon. Against all odds, Desmond sticks to his guns, but it is Tom who pulls the strings, to seek permission to allow his son entering the battlefield without a weapon, which singles him out as the most conflicting character in a film suffused with one-note display of military discipline and war heroes.
The next thing is the real deal, the close-combat between USA and Japan on the Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, Gibson doesn’t refrain from bombarding his spectators with rousing spectacle where death and injuries escalating exponentially in both warring parties, bullets-flying, blood-spurting, limbs-flapping, hell couldn’t be worse than that. After the failed attempt to take over the ridge, which costs US army grave casualties, Desmond, lucky enough to be alive-and-kicking at that point, receives an epiphany from God. He plunges himself into the combat zone again rather than retreating with his troop, taking advantage of the night time, under the eyelid of Japanese army, he begins to drag those injured soldiers one by one to the edge of the cliff and send them down to the ground in rappel, in one night, he heroically saves over 75 lives of his comrades (some Japanese too) and miraculously survives from enemy’s scouting, which immediately revitalizes the dwindling esprit de corps, in the subsequent attack, they triumphantly conquers the ridge, Desmond is wounded by an explosion, but it is not lethal, later he is awarded the Medal of Honor.
The movie sends his anti-war message lucidly with its no-holds-barred delineation of the visceral cruelty in the front-line and valiantly advocates Desmond’s peace-loving philosophy which makes wonder in the face of extreme adversity. Andrew Garfield gives a commendable impression as the wide-eyed hero, gangly, unsophisticated, dogged in his belief, fearless when he is doing the right thing, the only gripe is that he seems to more like a poshly shoehorned exemplar of individual heroism, than a complex personage survived from the ordeal of war. Another gnawing fact is Mel Gibson’s politically problematic treatment of the enemy side – cannon fodder plus emotionless killing machine, which fails to bestow this engaging war movie a discerning conscience, especially when an unlikely white-flag hoax is intentionally orchestrated to underline the rival’s duplicitous nature, it indeed boomerangs and undercuts the empathy of this hagiography. Mel Gibson still gets his faculties to produce a pleasing blockbuster, but if we want a pièce de résistance with enduring impact, in all likelihood, he might not be the one we can bank on.