Critics should always go into films with an open mind and try to separate films from any context outside of the film. To try and judge the film fairly on its own merits, whether it’s good or a horribly offensive piece of sh!t *cough* Transformers *cough.* This is hard to do with some directors though. How do you fairly judge Roman Polanski without considering his horrendous conduct and misogyny in his private life?Hacksaw Ridge, now delivers unto us the Mel Gibson problem.
Gibson’s religious, political and personal views are at best pure lunacy. However, he is an excellent filmmaker from a technical standpoint. Apocalypto stands as one of the most interesting films of the last 20 years.
Now, here we are, officially at the end of Gibson’s Hollywood rehabilitation. Demonstrating that the industry is willing to rehabilitate anyone not running for political office. Gibson has come out of his metaphorical rehabilitation with a pacifist, anti-war film, the critically acclaimed, Hacksaw Ridge.
The film is based on the real-life experiences of decorated war hero, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield). A pacifist who wanted to serve as a medic in the US forces during World War Two but was dead set against picking up a gun or taking a human life. A personal view motivated by his religious beliefs and his family life, which he has seen the psychological damage done to his father (Hugo Weaving) who served during the First World War.
You do wonder what they put in the drinks at the film festivals that brings some of these Oscar-bait films such acclaim. Manchester by the Sea was a good film but nothing particularly startling, last year’s The Danish Girl was exceptionally average and now Mel Gibson’s latest offering has been hailed by some as his best work behind the camera.
Opinions are all subjective of course but it doesn’t mean that particular view isn’t complete and utter tripe. That’s not to say Hacksaw Ridge is a bad film. It definitely isn’t, but I’m not certain it’s any good either.
There are good points to it. The scenes on the titular location in Okinawa are a visceral, visual assault, with generous lashing of gore to rival any video nasty from the 1980’s, offering us the most violent pacifist movie ever seen. The reveal of the notorious ridge is an impressively bleak, fantastic nightmare. One that offers some insight into the genuinely apocalyptic feel to the final American push into Japan during the dying days of World War Two.
Moreover, there is a genuine message in the virtues of pacifism and avoiding getting into war wherever possible. At least it’s somewhere in there, obscured by the obvious need for the American’s need to take a piece of land against an imperialist, racist state during committing the most destructive suicide possible. Because this is a film that appears to be at war with itself. Confused about what it is trying to achieve.
The first half of the film, set amongst the beautiful rolling hills of small-town Virginia, is so cheesy it could pass for a made-for-tv Hallmark film that airs at 3:30 in the afternoon. Its Little House on the Prairie after a major injection of processed sugar, and the colour turned up to eleven hundred.
This is not helped by Garfield, who remains unconvincing as an actor who keeps acquiring major lead roles. At times, I cannot quite take him seriously and that wasn’t helped by him being asked to produce a muted Forrest Gump impersonation for the first half of the film.
In another of this film’s mass of contradictions is Hugo Weaving’s performance amongst the great whacking slabs of cheese in Virginia. Weaving is bloody excellent. Delivering a serious dramatic display as haunted and psychologically damaged war-veteran attempting to prevent both of his sons heading into the theatre of war. It’s a performance entirely out-of-place with everything else around it though, I feel like I’m watching Colonel Kurtz wander into La La Land. It is one example that sums up the confused, contradictory nature of Hacksaw Ridge.
Mel Gibson, has created a film at war with itself but certainly not one worthy of the considerable awards buzz its drawing, irrespective of the director’s utterly bonkers views.