Hacksaw Ridge (USA/Australia, 2016)

Directed by: Mel Gibson. Oh those four magic words in the annals of cinema: Directed by Mel Gibson. I have yet to see Apocalypto, but this one at least seemed like it had a good chance of avoiding any direct racism, so that’s a start. And indeed, it does. This is your classic, run of the mill, hero-worshipping, patriotic war movie, but with a pretty great twist—it’s a war film that celebrates a pacifist. Classic Hollywood for you! How was the film going to navigate this particular variety of having the cake and eating it too? Is the film actually going to be an anti-war movie, or a celebratory, flag-waving good old war movie that happens to also celebrate the actions and convictions of a pacifist? It’s obviously the latter, and it’s crucial that his pacifism is rooted in good old, mainstream, American apple-pie Christianity, which is what makes it so easy to reconcile these things. God Bless America, but also this thing it’s doing is terrible, but it’s WWII so we can’t bark up that tree to far, so we’ll just say that he can’t fight because he loves Jesus, and he also loves America, and his heroic actions are enough to make us forget any contradiction. Really, it’s a genius move for Gibson, to pick this project as his return to grace, because it’s a totally perfect, banal, TV-movie type thing that you can throw a huge budget at, get a wide release for, be the darling of conservative, small-minded Academy voters, and also win big at the box office by appealing to every gun-toting Christian Republican and every grandparent and every uptight middle-aged couple who hasn’t gone to the theatre for something that wasn’t Pixar since before they had kids—movies like this are the only choice for such folk, and I’m sure they embraced it warmly. And the film didn’t have any glaring, awful, Mel Gibson deal-breaker elements, because it was so thick in the patriotism and formula that almost anyone could have directed it. And although it’s definitely worth asking why and how Hollywood forgave him so relatively quickly and allowed him a second act that is so rarely afforded most public figures, in a way I’m impressed he pulled it off. Of course, does he deserve us all to look the other way at all the awful shit he said? He’s forever a walking punchline for me at this point, and as he gains confidence, I’ll perhaps find his filmic output less bemusing and quaint than I find this one. But for now, I’ll just say, good job Mel, but mostly, good job Andrew Garfield. I hope you bought the kid dinner one or two times, because without him, you’d still be a punchline, you racist clown.

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