If Arrival is an unlikely choice to win Best Picture at the Oscars Sunday, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge must be an impossibility without some copious payola. Given Gibson’s very public tirades and instability, the door to accolades for anything with the embattled star’s name attached to it would seem closed in the eyes of the public.
And yet here we are years later, Gibson has an opportunity at a second chance, and the movie itself is pretty powerful and well made. Nominated in several categories, including Best Actor and Best Picture, Hacksaw Ridge depicts the real-life story of Army medic Desmond Doss, who refused to carry a gun while serving in the Pacific during World War 2.
Andrew Garfield portrays Doss, a simple veteran’s son from America’s heartland who only wants to serve his country, even when it clashes with his beliefs as a devout Adventist (who worships on Saturday). In basic training, he won’t shoot or hold a rifle, which leads to fellow trainees harassing him and his commanding officer (Sam Worthington) wanting nothing more than to get rid of him. His father (Hugo Weaving) stands up for his cause then it’s off to Okinawa, at the height of the battle to take the island, where Desmond fights to save lives and ease the pain of every wounded man in sight.
Hacksaw is a war picture so sequences in the second half are packed with the expected blood and guts. Along with explosions, shooting holes in people, and war cries, it’s all there, as with any Gibson film. But the brutality feels more
like an extension of the mise-en-scene, serving specifically to illustrate — yet again — that war is hell. That’s not a new message even though Okinawa is a war at possibly the worst in history, and would be nothing except clanging and clatter without the strength of its lead.
Garfield is where the real power of the film lies. He embodies Doss tremendously in his humility and piety in the face of his struggles, turning in a performance that ought to be a lock for best male lead. People let down by Amazing Spider–Man and its sequel, but thought Andrew had talent, will probably rejoice.
It’s a moving, compelling picture that will stay with you, tugging at your emotions, long after. Mel Gibson winning Best Director might be a gamble, and so might Best Picture, but Hacksaw Ridge is bound to pick up wins in a few categories (if Blue Jasmine can, this can).