THE GOOD FIGHT

Ten years on from his in­fa­mous anti-Semitic rant, Mel Gib­son’s strug­gle back into pos­i­tive ter­ri­tor­ity plays out through a story of bat­tles

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - JO­CE­LYN NOVECK

MEL GIB­SON IS BACK WITH HIS FILM HACK­SAW RIDGE

Is Hack­saw Ridge Mel Gib­son’s re­demp­tion? Is it his atone­ment, or per­haps his mir­a­cle? Don’t worry, we won’t be mak­ing any such weighty the­o­log­i­cal pro­nounce­ments – though these terms have all been bandied about in re­la­tion to Gib­son’s first di­rec­to­rial ef­fort in the 10 years since Apoca­lypto. That movie came out in 2006, only a few months af­ter news broke of Gib­son’s drunken anti-Semitic rant, which has plagued his ca­reer ever since.

But Hack­saw Ridge, the lat­est con­tri­bu­tion to the canon of big World War II films, doesn’t need any re­demp­tive back­story. What­ever you think of Gib­son, his film­mak­ing prow­ess is ev­i­dent. This big, bruis­ing, vis­cer­ally vi­o­lent yet also of­ten mov­ing film should be judged on its mer­its.

Hack­saw Ridge, star­ring the goofily ap­peal­ing An­drew Garfield as the real-life char­ac­ter Des­mond Doss, may not be a per­fect movie, but it strikes an un­usual bal­ance. It’s a vi­o­lent film whose hero – and moral core – es­pouses non­vi­o­lence. It’s a war film that will also ap­peal to a faith-based au­di­ence. It’s a film that at mo­ments can feel re­lent­lessly corny – and a se­cond later, painfully, hor­ri­bly real.

Doss, a Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist, was the first con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tor to be awarded the Con­gres­sional Medal of Hon­our. An Army medic, he re­fused to touch a weapon, be­liev­ing he should be sav­ing lives and not tak­ing them. Though his ex­ploits are a mat­ter of record, we won’t spill all the de­tails here. Af­ter an early in­tro­duc­tion to Doss as a boy in the Blue Ridge Moun­tains of Vir­ginia, we pick up in young adult­hood. When war breaks out with Ja­pan, the young man feels com­pelled to en­list, de­spite the ob­jec­tions of his lov­ing but abu­sive fa­ther (an ex­cel­lent Hugo Weav­ing), a World War I veteran who was ru­ined by the ex­pe­ri­ence. Doss is also go­ing against the wishes of his new fi­ancee, Dorothy (fresh-faced Teresa Palmer), who begs him to stay.

Doss ar­rives at train­ing camp, ea­ger to serve. But when he won’t touch a ri­fle, his su­pe­ri­ors are aghast.

“Pri­vate Doss does not be­lieve in vi­o­lence,” taunts one sergeant. “Do not look to him to save your life on the bat­tle­field!”

He’s played by Vince Vaughn, whose ap­proach at first seems too comedic – as if in an­other movie. But he soon set­tles into an ef­fec­tively un­der­stated per­for­mance. Doss is pres­sured to leave the army – sub­jected to beat­ings, ha­rass­ment, ul­ti­mately a court­mar­tial – and only sur­vives due to dra­matic in­ter­ven­tion from on high. And then it’s on to Ja­pan, to Ok­i­nawa and specif­i­cally the bru­tal bat­tle at Hack­saw Ridge, high up on a pun­ish­ing cliff where un­told hor­rors await.

It is here that Gib­son’s hand is the surest. The sud­den­ness with which death ar­rives in com­bat, the un­fath­omable ran­dom­ness of it all, a man’s jaunty bravado crum­bling into paralysing fear – the di­rec­tor sugar-coats noth­ing.

As the men first climb to­wards their en­emy, they pass their fallen com­rades. Some corpses are in parts. Some have mag­gots crawl­ing out of them.

It is dur­ing this bat­tle that Doss be­comes a hero, find­ing a way to save count­less men by per­se­ver­ing when most oth­ers have been forced to re­treat. He is guided by his faith; at one point, he asks God out loud what is ex­pected of him. Garfield knows how to make such a scene feel hon­est – no easy feat.

Many fact-based movies end with some real-life footage. It’s al­ways wel­come, but here, it’s truly ex­cit­ing to see Doss, alive and speak­ing (he died in 2006). His is a story you prob­a­bly didn’t know, and will be glad you did. Gib­son does well by it. Hack­saw Ridge is show­ing now

Pic­ture: Mark Rogers/Sum­mit via AP

An­drew Garfield in a scene from Hack­saw Ridge.

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