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Film review: Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson’s triumphant return in gory war drama

Andrew Garfield brings a serene empathy to his role as real-life pacifist Desmond Doss, who saved more than 70 fallen second world war comrades, in a gore-soaked, sweeping old-fashioned epic

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 1:45pm

3.5/5 stars

Ten years after Apocalypto, Mel Gibson returns to directing following a decade of personal crises that threatened to sink his career. Employing the same grand canvas as his previous efforts, including the Oscar-winning Braveheart and box office smash The Passion of the Christ , Hacksaw Ridge is an epic second world war drama centring on the true story of Desmond Doss, played by an excellent Andrew Garfield.

A Seventh-Day Adventist and self-confessed pacifist, Doss nevertheless enlisted as a medic in the US army and was shipped off to the Pacific. His refusal to carry a firearm saw him clash with superiors, but he persevered through horrific victimisation. During the Battle of Okinawa along the titular cliff-face, Doss saved the lives of 75 men, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honour – the first time it’d been bestowed upon a conscientious objector.

With Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson returns to the Hollywood maelstrom

Shot in Australia with a largely home-grown cast, Hacksaw Ridge is a sweeping old-fashioned epic, opening in idyllic small-town Virginia, before following Doss’ hardships and pitfalls in basic training, and ultimately erupting in gratuitous violence – as Gibson’s films invariably do – on the battlefields of Japan.

Garfield brings a serene empathy to Doss, even as those around him become infuriated by his actions. The respect of his commanding officers and fellow grunts proves hard-earned but is beautifully realised during the hellish combat sequences, which make up the majority of the film’s second half. Garfield is ably supported by Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving and Teresa Palmer, as Doss’ doting wife.

How Andrew Garfield got into war hero’s head for Hacksaw Ridge role

Despite these strengths, there is an over-earnest simplicity to Gibson’s vision of faith and conflict. The Japanese are painted as faceless aggressors devoid of humanity or mercy, while the notion that religion somehow offers protection, and the white bread innocence of back home may grate with some audiences.

But Gibson has clearly lost none of his talent for cinematic spectacle, and Hacksaw Ridge invariably looks incredible. Rupert Gregson-Williams’ stirring score only further adds to the immersive and admittedly moving experience.

Hacksaw Ridge opens on December 1

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