Mel Gibson's Second World War movie Hacksaw Ridge is a cut above
It's 10 years since Braveheart director Mel Gibson directed a movie, the visceral Mesoamerican drama Apocalypto. His new Second World War epic Hacksaw Ridge is, in similar vein, a brutal, uncompromising assault on the senses, writes Damon Smith
DIRECTOR Mel Gibson returns, all guns blazing, with a riveting wartime drama based on the true story of Desmond Doss, who served with valour during the Second World War without having to fire a single bullet.
He became the first conscientious objector to receive America's highest military award, the Medal of Honor, which is bestowed on the precious few who have distinguished themselves with incredible gallantry beyond the call of duty.
In Doss's extraordinary case, he ran into a hail of Japanese bullets in May 1945 at the Battle of Okinawa, without a weapon to return fire, and risked his life to rescue injured soldiers from the blood-soaked battleground. In an era of questionable morality, when principles are repeatedly compromised for the sake of selfish gain, one man's inspirational journey of righteous self-sacrifice is an invigorating tonic.
Gibson directs with verve, orchestrating hellish battle scenes. Aerial bombardments scythe through flesh, ripping limbs from torsos or exploding craniums as a well-targeted bullet careens through an eye socket. The senseless slaughter of young men in the prime of their lives is heartbreaking.
Desmond (Andrew Garfield) is born and raised with his brother Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic) in Lynchburg, Virginia, against the picturesque backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His father Tom (Hugo Weaving) is an emotionally scarred veteran of the First World War and mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) educates her brood using The Bible. At an early age, Desmond almost kills Hal and he is haunted by the episode.
"To take another man's life is the most egregious sin," counsels Bertha. Her words have a profound effect on Desmond, who takes up a vow of pacifism, even when he enrols in the US army. He intends to follow the lead of his nurse girlfriend, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), and serve as a medic.
However, Desmond is ushered into combat training under no-nonsense Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and instantly makes enemies of the rest of the squad, especially bullying ringleader Smitty Ryker (Luke Bracey), by refusing to carry arms.
Desmond's defiance leads to his arrest for insubordination and he faces a trial behind closed doors overseen by Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) and Captain Stelzer (Richard Roxburgh).
Hacksaw Ridge pulls no punches in its depiction of the horrors of conflict. Garfield delivers a mesmerising lead performance, as a gentle and caring man who yearns to serve the country he loves, but isn't willing to abandon his moral compass in the name of patriotism.
Gibson's bravura direction marries moments of silent, agonising regret with explosions of deafening pyrotechnic spectacle. It's a brutal, uncompromising assault on the senses that tunes into Doss's religious beliefs and clings on to them when tearful capitulation seems like the only option.
HACKSAW RIDGE (15, 139 mins) War/Action/Drama/Romance. Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Sam Worthington, Richard Roxburgh, Nathaniel Buzolic. Director: Mel Gibson