Hacksaw Ridge might tell an interesting story but director Mel Gibson fumbles the execution so poorly it loses all meaning.
Title: Hacksaw Ridge
Director: Mel Gibson
Summary: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
There are a variety of things that can completely kneecap a production. This is even more true when it comes to movies that are ‘based on a true story’ because, much like a prequel, you have to work twice as hard to keep the audience engaged so they forget that they know how it ends. Then there is the issue of the director being the wrong fit for the material and in this case I believe that Mel Gibson was not the person to bring us the story of Desmond Doss. Lately Gibson is better known for his views on faith than his ability as a director or actor, so a story about a religious man in a warzone brought to us by the man who directed and starred in Braveheart should have been a perfect fit, but in my opinion it does not work.
There is the saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ and it’s true for a reason. In the case of Hacksaw Ridge we have a story where the actions were loud enough that even the least aware person in the world could have caught on, but director Mel Gibson doesn’t believe in subtly. The actions of Doss that we see on screen, even more so when we get to the battles, are very obvious. This is a man who believes so strong in his faith that he is willing to go into the depths of hell without a weapon. These actions speak volumes yet Gibson can’t seem to let those speak for themselves. Instead he coats the movie in over the top religious imagery, a really tone deaf scene of Doss getting carried away on a stretcher and a Japanese general committing suicide.
There are things that work for the most part. The movie doesn’t shy away from the fact that war is brutal and ugly. People get blown away by grenades, limbs go flying in all directions and no one comes away without blood on their hands, one way or another. We see Doss seek God’s guidance and Gibson managed not to have the clouds part with a choir of angels shinning down. Doss asks for guidance and he hears a fellow soldier crying out for help. At one point Doss is carrying men left to die on the battlefield to safety and we hear him say “please God give me the strength for just one more”. These two moments, which Doss confirms in the credits happened, are powerful, but Gibson just can’t leave well enough alone. The movie ends with Doss being brought down the ridge on a stretcher with the sun and clouds behind him like an angel and it was just way too much.
Hacksaw Ridge is an amazing tale that should be talked about more. The fact that I hadn’t heard of this man before now is a crime onto itself, but Gibson was not the man to bring it to the big screen. Gibson is too enamoured with his own faith to let the subtly work the way it needs to. While we might see that war is hell, Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t do justice to the man who came out of it saving 70 men without laying a hand on a weapon.