139 minutes (15)
If there is something Mel Gibson’s Braveheart showed us more than two decades ago, is that the man can do thrilling battles that put you on the edge of your seat like no one else. With his latest film, Hacksaw Ridge, the director comes back to Hollywood’s front line as an expert in war.
Set in 1940s Virginia, the film follows the real-life story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a man who joined the army to fight in World War II as a conscientious objector and refused to use a single gun. It shows Doss through a series of turning points in his life, like almost killing his brother when they were children, or saving a man’s life that led to Doss meeting his future wife, and they are all used to explain and justify why Doss abhors violence and wants to use his hands to serve and help others, instead of killing.
Gibson manages with this film to give war another meaning, offering us a view different from so many other war movies, which usually tend to be more about glory and comradery without stopping to think for a second about all the lives that are being taken mindlessly. Hacksaw is more about the human emotions behind the battles, it delves into the moral aspect of sending young men to war, of the life-changing experience of taking a human life.
And it’s not just that. Hacksaw is not afraid of showing the war in its most crude way. The battle scenes, particularly the first one, are spectacular, yet raw and realistic.
Of course, being a Mel Gibson film, religion is always present. Doss’s life is led by his religious convictions, and some of the more poignant scenes of the movie involve his Bible or him praying. But it doesn’t feel forced. If anything, it allows you to understand why Doss does what he does.
The film, though, gains a lot from Andrew Garfield’s performance. Only an actor like him could have portrayed the naivety and kind-hearted nature of Doss’s character. And while the film has some astounding performances from Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths as Doss’s parents, Teresa Palmer as his girlfriend-turned-wife and even from Sam Worthington as Doss’s superior, it is Garfield the one who steals the show with his subtle and taciturn performance.
If there was a way of showing how a film can be about action and morality at the same time, then Mel Gibson has proved it with Hacksaw Ridge.