It’s been a decade since Mel Gibson has directed a film. During the hiatus, he’s had some unfortunate antics, but his career should rebound after his latest effort, "Hacksaw Ridge."
Simply put, this is one of the best films of the year and one of the best war films in recent years.
It stars Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, a Seventh-Day Adventist living in Virginia, who signs up to fight in World War II. He does so under the strict conviction that he will not take a life, much less touch a weapon. His hopes to become a field medic to save lives instead of taking them.
Once he arrives at basic training, Doss faces persecution and ridicule from his fellow soldiers who believe he’s a coward. His persecution is further reinforced by his drill sergeant (Vince Vaughan) and his company commander (Sam Worthington).
In a gut-wrenching performance, Hugo Weaving costars as Doss’ alcoholic, abusive father who doesn’t want his son to have the same experiences he had in World War I. Weaving’s performance is so tragic that at once we cringe yet sympathize for him. It’s Best Supporting Actor worthy.
Eventually, Doss is court-martialed, but is found not guilty and given orders to go to Okinawa without a single weapon to protect him. He also says his goodbyes to his wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer).
When we hit Okinawa, Gibson’s typical unrelenting violence takes center stage. The battle sequences are brutal, bloody and extremely tough to sit through. Among the carnage Doss single-handedly saves close to 75 lives.
Gibson, Garfield and the rest of the cast are confident enough to take time with this material and give it the respect it deserves. The early scenes establishing Doss’ character are well-acted and convincing. Basic training provides typical montages seen in other war films. And Gibson’s vision of war rivals "Saving Private Ryan."
Above all, this movie celebrates the spirit of conviction even in the face persecution and adversity. Garfield’s performance has so much heart and believability, you can’t take your eyes off him. The movie also contains a lot of Gibson trappings: Graphically realistic warfare, overtones focusing on spirituality and passionate, absorbing filmmaking.
Regardless of your personal feelings about Gibson, "Hacksaw Ridge" is a powerful and effective experience from start to finish.
Rated R for intense, prolonged and realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.
Hall is a syndicated columnist in South Georgia.