Director Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” is going to make a lot of money.
Its old-fashioned storytelling collides with new-level gore, enough to make “Saving Private Ryan” look like “The Big Broadcast of 1938.”
The film knows exactly what it’s doing, regarding faith-based audiences and war movie buffs. It’s often gripping, or at least effectively assaultive, and when you have a director as fervent in his determination to put you through it, as proved by the earlier
Gibson hits “The Passion of the Christ” and “Apocalypto,” you’re halfway to another popular success.
It takes its name from the forbidding 350-foot cliff also known as Maeda Escarpment on the island of Okinawa, the 1945 scene of some of the worst carnage of World War II. The script creates a solemn, extraordinarily bloody account of the trials by fire met by real-life Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a Seventh-day Adventist and medic who was the first conscientious objector to receive that honor.
From “Braveheart,” especially, but also “The Passion of the Christ,” Gibson learned a great deal about pacing and structuring a biopic culminating in ungodly anguish but dealing with other things along the way.
After a fiery, slow-motion prologue, announcing the Okinawa battles to come, the first hour of “Hacksaw Ridge” depicts Doss’ often harsh upbringing in Lynchburg, Va., beaten by his alcoholic wreck of a World War I veteran father (Hugo Weaving) and comforted by a loving mother (Rachel Griffiths).
These scenes alternate between storybook idealization and nightmarish confrontations with a father eaten up by self-loathing.
After Pearl Harbor, the war is on and Doss’ town is emptied of its fighting men, his brother included.
So he joins up, promising to marry a local nurse (Theresa Palmer, playing a quality _ “luminous” _ as opposed to a person).
Then we finds Doss in Army basic training. His religious beliefs dictate that he will not carry a weapon. Vince Vaughn, plainly enjoying himself, plays his casually astonished sergeant, who encourages beatings of Doss administered by men known as “Tex,” “Hollywood” and “Ghoul.”
Their mission: to drum Doss out of the military. Nothing works. He’s resolute, and his God sees him through.
It’s impossible to watch any treatment of his man’s life and not be amazed. (The movie leaves out his difficult postwar period.) How he saved lives, many left for dead, was truly exceptional.
The limitation of “Hacksaw Ridge,” for all its gut-punch viscera, comes from Gibson treating Doss not as exceptional, but as a messiah. Some of images go straight for the Christlike iconography, as when Doss is lifted on a stretcher into the heavens, with composer Rupert Gregson-Williams practically fire-hosing the screen with musical sanctimony.
— Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
Two and a half stars
Starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Rachel Griffiths, Theresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving
Written by Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight
Directed by Mel Gibson
Running time 2 hours, 18 minutes