Published Nov 01, 2016Look for Mel Gibson's name on the poster or in the trailer for his new movie, Hacksaw Ridge, and you'll have a hard time trying to find it.
That's not surprising. For years, the actor-turned-director was known more for his behaviour than his body of work. He was publicly homophobic, racist and misogynistic, an ultraconservative alcoholic with a deep-seated belief in God and Christ who didn't seem to practice any of their teachings in his personal life. In short: not the kind of person you want to be associated with.
Now, a decade after his last turn as a director (2006's polarizing Apocalypto), the 10-years-sober Gibson appears to have a new lease on life and is getting another chance in Hollywood. Following a surprisingly strong starring role in Jean-François Richet's taut action-thriller Blood Father, Gibson is back in the director's chair for Hacksaw Ridge, a film whose two main themes — faith and forgiveness — seem close to his heart.
Based on a true story, the film stars former web-slinger Andrew Garfield as Desmond T. Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist from a Virginia family who enlists in the army to help America's troops during WWII. There's just one catch: Doss doesn't believe in conflict, even though, in his eyes, the reasons for the war are justified.
Hacksaw Ridge charts his journey, from beat-downs in the barracks (at first, his fellow troops don't take to kindly to the idea of him refusing to carry a rifle alongside them into the field of battle) to saving over 75 lives during an attempt at taking the Maeda Escarpment on May 5, 1945.
Not surprisingly for anyone who's followed Gibson's earlier work, this is a film that feels fairly old-fashioned, with little subtlety to its subtext. Instead, it's big and brash, a punishing picture that captures the horrors of war in some of the most graphic scenes imaginable; if you thought the opening moments of Saving Private Ryan were nauseating, wait until you see the amount of dismembered body parts and rats gnawing on enemy corpses that occupy a sizeable chunk of this movie's two-hour runtime.
Speaking of Saving Private Ryan — Gibson and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan and screenwriter Andrew Knight obviously seem inspired by the sense of camaraderie found in that film's characters, but can't quite create any as memorable as Private Jackson, Mellish or Caparzo (although Vince Vaughan's Sergeant Howell, a hard-headed leader who softens over time, comes close).
Still, as far as movies about war go, Hacksaw Ridge is a relentless ride, and it's amazing something as powerful as Braveheart could be created on a quarter of its budget. Good job, sugar tits!