Given the imposed exile Mel Gibson has been under since a series of “personal problems” derailed his career (quite rightly, by all accounts), there has emerged another tricky dilemma of whether the artist should be separated from their art. Regardless of one’s personal view of him as an actor and as a person, Gibson has produced an impressive body of work as a director, from the Oscar-winning brilliance of Braveheart to the flawed but visually fascinating The Passion of the Christ to the highly original Apocalypto. His films seem preoccupied with visceral violence, gripping historical drama and faintly uncomfortable religious and political symbolism, all of which are present and correct here.

The story of Desmond Doss is really quite remarkable, a member of a fringe Christian group who voluntarily joined the US Army in the second World War. He was a pacifist and refused to hold a weapon, instead wanting to work as a medic, and was not only accused of cowardice (he had to win a military court case to even be allowed to finish his training), but he went on to save approximately 75 lives in the Battle of Okinawa (all by himself after his division had retreated), thereby becoming the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor. It’s one of those stories that would be ridiculous and too far-fetched to be taken seriously, were it not completely true, and this appears to be a reasonably faithful recreation of his extraordinary achievements.

Gibson uses a framing device similar to the Stanley Kubrick classic Full Metal Jacket, with the first half of the film focusing on the brutality of Doss’s boot camp experiences, and the second half depicting the notoriously casualty-heavy “Hacksaw Ridge” of the title. The explicit violence is grim and uncompromising, but probably justified given that a “cleaned up” version of World War II would be morally questionable. Both sections are riveting in their own way, anchored by a warmly endearing performance from Andrew Garfield as the lead. Some of Gibson’s right-wing politics and clumsy religious symbolism peek through now and then, but they don’t even begin to detract from what is an astonishing story, rigorously told.

There are many criticisms to be made of Mel Gibson, but he remains a consistently fascinating director9
The story of Desmond Doss is quite incredible, and should be more well-known10
Andrew Garfield is perfectly cast here and excels himself9
Gibson's obsessions with violence, right-wing politics and religion are a little bit odd6
They're all important parts of this story though, and it's brilliantly told9
Bechdel Test passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel test failures
  • None of the named female characters talk to each other
9Overall Score

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