Mel Gibson makes a comeback, and it may be his best-directed movie to date
Violent wars have been an intrigue to many directors over the past couple decades. Crafting war scenes is fun and probably the main reason a director chooses to re-tell a WWII story. But what if that story is centered on an individual who opposes war? One must wonder what is Gibson’s real motive in doing Desmond Dawson’s story. His controversial Passion of the Christ is still widely criticized today for exploiting Jesus’ crucifixion in such a sadistic way. Some will say that Hacksaw Ridge is no different. However, if you can look past Gibson’s struggle between telling a war story and a story about a famous pacifist, then hiding in there is one of his best movie to date.
Desmond Dawson (Andrew Garfield) is a fascinating figure. Living in a toxic home environment, Dawson is showed first hand the consequences of violence. Being a very religious person, his decision to enlist himself as a medic doesn’t come without personal restrictions. He is not to bear nor touch any loaded weapons. His wish is to go to war without one single protection in his hand. Controversial at first, the jury decides to give him the freedom to go to Hacksaw without any weapons.
Struggling with leaving his newly-wed wife, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), Dawson must hold on to his beliefs to try and save as many lives as he can. In the end, Hacksaw Ridge becomes more of a moral story about war and how one man changed that morality.
The film’s best strength lies in Garfield’s spectacular portrayal of Desmond Dawson. Staying clear of any over acting or caricaturing, he delivers such a powerful and emotional picture of a soldier. Dawson’s beliefs are at the center and through flashback we learn how that came to be. Just one of the reason Garfield’s character fits perfectly in the serious and dramatic world Gibson has so masterfully crafted.
Playing very nicely within the movie’s drama is the terrific shots Gibson creates. The war scenes, in particular, shine through. Describing the scenes of Hacksaw as gruesomely beautiful is ironic considering this movie is about a pacifist. Dawson’s ideology on war is very different than Gibson’s visual depiction of war. He directs the camera to let you see every cut, wounds, and bullets piercing through the solidiers’ bodies. There is an irony there can be seen as contradicting to the movie’s values.
At the same time, the war imagery is supposed to be shocking and gruesome. The point of Gibson’s story is to sell you the idea that war is morally incorrect. Therefore, a realistic portrayal of war is needed. There is a fine line between realism and exploitation. Gibson does cross that line more often than not but never does he do it at the expense of its message.
The message certainly gets across clearly thanks to Garfield’s terrific performance. Visually stunning and well-crafted war scenes help you forgive Gibson’s careless carnage. The central message is a timeless one, and the Christian understanding can be understood differently by the secular audience. Getting past the irony of pacifism vs. violence is the movie’s toughest sell. However, never have you seen director Mel Gibson at his finest.