HACKSAW RIDGE (2016, Mel Gibson)
Nothing here that isn’t prototypical Gibson: it’s fervently Christian, though not in nearly as annoying and crazed a way as THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST or BRAVEHEART; it’s corny and old-school, and the action is sensational. It may not be incongruous for a right-wing religious filmmaker to also have an incredible amount of blood lust, but Gibson’s movies are always way gorier than you’d expect. Even in a war setting, the exploding heads and legless, crawling torsos feel like parts of a horror movie — made a little weirder by the fact that at times the message seems slightly pro-war: although it proves to be hell for the soldiers in Okinawa, it provides its lead character with the opportunity to be saint and savior, and gives men the courage it takes to kill the bad guys.
Sketchy moral ground aside, the entertainment value in HACKSAW RIDGE is in its quaint, almost exploitation-movie simplicity. The first act introduces our soulful hero (Andrew Garfield giving one of his best performances) and gives him a cartoonishly saintly nurse-wife (in the ever-present Teresa Palmer). The second act puts him through basic training, with Vince Vaughn amusingly chewing up his R. Lee Ermey impersonation. TIGERLAND this ain’t, and Sam Worthington isn’t exactly Shea Whigham, but it sets the tone for the third act, which is straight up war insanity. And it’s there where the APOCALYPTO filmmaker thrives — the pace, the effects, and the action staging are stellar. And even in its nearly comical Christ-figure worship of Doss, it packs an impressive punch.
Nobody will mistake Gibson for a nuanced contemplator of war in the vein of Malick with THE THIN RED LINE or Kubrick with FULL METAL JACKET, but there’s something to be said for the boyish, propagandistic enthusiasm of this trial-by-fire hagiography. I don’t know if it’s something good, but it’s something.