Film Review: Hacksaw Ridge

A cleaned-up and contrite Mel Gibson looked like he’d been finally forgiven when he starred in the tough actioner Blood Father earlier this year, and now there’s Hacksaw Ridge, his first film as director since Apocalypto 10 years ago (believe it or not).

Much praise has been heaped upon it, partially due to goodwill for Mel and partially due to its status as an amazing true story (which some seem to think makes the thing untouchable), and yet it’s a little iffy at its core, with some uneasy playing, a tricky tone and, as it’s a Mel movie, a huge dose of heavy-duty pro-religious moralising.

Desmond Thomas Doss is shown as a lad growing up in Virginia (actually NSW), traumatised by the drunken rage of his WWI-shell-shocked Dad Tom (Hugo Weaving) and influenced greatly by his Seventh Day Adventist Mom Bertha (Rachel Griffiths with the best American accent here). When he grows up to be played by Andrew Garfield (overdoing the naïve niceness), he’s seen wooing a looker nurse (Teresa Palmer) and joining up to be a medic in the Second World War, which drives his father crazy, especially as the pacifist Des doesn’t want to carry a gun. After all, killing “is the most grievous sin in the world.”

Given Hell, at first, during training, as he refuses to handle weapons despite the fiercest efforts of Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), Colonel Stelzer (Richard Roxburgh) and his fellow soldiers, he faces serious charges, until a series of circumstances prevail, not least of which include the fact that so many men were dying in the Battle of Okinawa that the army needed every young life they could get their hands on. And so Doss went out into the frontline, and the rest is history.

A little phony in the build-up to its graphic battle scenes (which as usual are presented uneasily, as an apparent anti-war stance turns violently celebratory), this is watchable enough if not quite some biopic classic.

You could argue that Doss was just plain lucky or that God was on his side, as he saved something like 75 people (the film’s estimate, although he said it was more like 50 and some witnesses went up to 100), but there’s absolutely no doubt which option Mel believes.

Rated MA. Hacksaw Ridge is in cinemas now.

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