Mel Gibson’s fifth directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge comes a decade after his last feature film Apocalypto. Coming through the cloud of a controversial decade-and-a-half marked by personal turmoil and public controversy, Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge seems to reinstate a sense of purpose for the beleaguered filmmaker. Gibson’s film follows the true-life story of Desmond T. Doss (portrayed by Andrew Garfield), an American conscientious objector, who served in World War II as a combat medic but refused to carry or use a weapon due to his pacifism as dictated by his beliefs as a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian. In keeping with Gibson’s filmmaking tradition, he merges history with a strong personal theme to center Hacksaw Ridge. Like 1995’s Braveheart, Hacksaw Ridge boasts an epic setup to convey the violent history the film itself is set in, but simultaneously undercuts its own pacifist message as it plunges into a barrage of over-the-top violence that feels more in line with the 1980s Rambo bloody action trope than exploring the harsh realities of “war as hell.”
From a storytelling point-of-view, the film commits rather shocking carnal sins in-regard to dialogue and development. Aside from Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Doss and Hugo Weaving’s portrayal of Doss’ father, the overwhelming majority of the film’s supporting cast are surprisingly underdeveloped, lacking fully-formed identities that contribute to the development of the character or the story. Meanwhile, the casting decisions in certain areas are downright puzzling particularly Vince Vaughn’s rather unconvincing performance as an Army Sergeant or Sam Worthington’s blank, expressionless performance as an Army Captain.
The dialogue of the film is extraordinarily forced and trite, sounding as contrived as the most amateur screenwriter could make it sound. Gibson’s directorial instincts enhance this triteness with musical cues that seem to announce the dramatic underpinnings of the situation whether it be romance or terror. The story development is just as abysmal as it in the most ham-headed way possible, presents Doss’ upbringing, Christian faith and family life in a manner that omits and reduces the very detail and characterization that are meant to serve the main character’s motivations as well as the basis for the story itself. With an exceedingly poor screenplay, Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge fails the most basic test as its built on an exceedingly poor frame that its aesthetics cannot make up for. Ultimately, Hacksaw Ridge should’ve been hack-sawed and tossed into the garbage it amounted to the very moment its mediocrity passed across a desk.