Around a decade since he last got behind the camera, for Apocalypto, and Mel Gibson is finally back in the directing chair for the war thriller Hacksaw Ridge, based on real-life hero Desmond Doss. But the big question on everyone's mind... has he lost his touch?

The answer: no, he most certainly hasn't. After his stellar work in last year's Blood Father, and now Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson is very much so on a resurgence again, and it's about time too. Post-Apocalypto, the times were a little tough on him, forcing him to step away from the industry for a decade or so. However, the Academy-Award winning director is now back, with the visceral, violent war-thriller Hacksaw Ridge. And it's a very welcome return to form for Gibson too. Having been at the helm of the likes of Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, and, of course, Braveheart, this is a director that knows how to direct action and how to create a gritty, tense atmosphere. Hacksaw Ridge proves that, beyond a doubt. It's such a beautifully directed film, so masterfully constructed, with some gorgeous cinematography and slick editing.
Set during World War II, and based on real-life events, Ridge follows our protagonist Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield). This is very much so a film of two halves; the first introduces us to the young, twenty-somethings Doss, an aspiring medic that wants to head out and help his country in the war. However, Doss is a conscientious objector and refuses to even touch a gun, let alone fire one. This doesn't fare well with Sergent Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), and Doss' fellow soldiers, the likes of Smitty Ryker (Luke Bracey), who all see it as an act of cowardice. After fighting a long, hard battle to stay true to what he believes in, Doss is finally allowed to head into the battlefield without any guns. The second half of Ridge courts his time in action and fighting the war, on the battlegrounds of the titular 'Hacksaw Ridge', the trenches of Okinawa, where Doss becomes a hero, showing bravery and courage, saving as many men as he can, with only his wit and will to help him get through this.

As I mentioned above, this is a film of two halves. The first half focuses on Doss' upbringing, and it's necessary for establishing this character and giving us some backstory as to just why he becomes a conscientious objector. It also introduces us to Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), Doss' love interest, and later, his wife. Their relationship is sweet albeit if a little bit rushed in its development, and a little overly cheesy and cringe-worthy. The first act definitely feels slow, it's understandable why Gibson has included it, as it's essential in fleshing out Doss, but it does feel a little repetitive and slow. However, as soon as Doss heads into war, that's when the film really cranks up a notch. This is an emotionally driven film, and it's devastating to watch Doss go through everything he does - having his beliefs and morals denied; getting bullied and beaten as a result. The action on the battlefield itself is some of the best war sequences ever put to film. It's relentless in its depiction; violent, bloody, harrowing. Gibson orchestrates the tension masterfully here, to create such an unnerving, white-knuckle atmosphere of terror and sheer brutality. Most war films depict war as violent and bloody, Ridge goes one step further and adds the horror of it into the mix too; this is as honest a depiction of warfare as we'll see and it doesn't hold back.
Of course, just how much these sequences hit home is also because of how much we invest in these characters. We find ourselves empathising with Doss, and his struggles, and rooting for him to succeed, and Andrew Garfield turns in a career-best performance here. Garfield brings the right balance of heart, heroics and vulnerability, completely disappearing into the role. There's some stellar work from the supporting cast too, the likes of Vince Vaughn, and Sam Worthington, who give very different performances than what we're used to seeing from them - the former, especially, has such a fierce, intimidating presence as Sgt Howell (especially in his introductory scene). Luke Bracey is also incredible here, giving a very nuanced performance as Smitty. You'' find yourself changing opinions of his character many times throughout, and that's great kudos to the writing, but also to Bracey's performance. Teresa Palmer is fine too, but you can't help but feel she was ver underused; her character is merely present to drive the premise forward. Dorothy is definitely the most underdeveloped of the characters.

In the end, Hacksaw Ridge perhaps doesn't necessarily quite feel like it deserves that 'Best Picture' nomination. But it's pretty great, nonetheless. The first half certainly drags and feels a little cheesy and cringe-worthy. But, once the action starts, Gibson feels right at home, orchestrating some powerful, emotionally driven, visceral and utterly compelling war sequences. This is a film bursting with heart and patriotism and, with a story about a man going against all the odds to stand up for what he believes in, and being a hero whilst doing so, this is also perhaps one of the most relevant films of the year - coming at a time where the world is so divided; as Doss says in one scene, "with the world so set on tearing itself apart, it doesn't seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together". Words to live by.

VERDICT:
Hacksaw Ridge is incredibly moving. This is a war film that is as bloody, visceral and harrowing as they come; a triumphant return to form for Mel Gibson. Welcome back, sir.



About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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