Imagine you’re 10-12 years old again. One lazy Saturday afternoon, you visit your friend Stephen’s house. Honestly, you don’t particularly like his place; since he refuses to clean the litter box, it always smells like cat pee, and there are plastic covers on all the furniture, which is so weird. But he has the new Guts and Glory war video game, which your folks won’t let you play for obvious reasons, so you swallow your discomfort.
After a few hours of popping terrorist melons, it’s your turn to go and grab a fresh bag of ranch-dipped buffalo wing flavored chips. But on your way to the kitchen, you’re cornered by Steve’s annoying Aunt Clara, who only drops in from time to time to drink his parents’ good liquor and silently judge how much they coddle their son (this despite the fact that she has no kids of her own). She proceeds to drone on and on for half-an-hour about the new illustrated edition of the King James Bible she bought from the nice door-to-door salesman last week, and you really should borrow it, it’ll change your life, and all the while you’re sneaking glances towards the flashing lights pouring out from Steve’s slightly ajar bedroom door, imagining all the cool, violent action you’re missing out on.
Add a “romantic” subplot that feels like Andrew Garfield’s audition for Norman Bates in the inevitable big screen remake of Psycho (he even bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Tony Perkins!), a heartbreakingly beautiful performance from the incomparable Hugo Weaving that should absolutely earn him an Oscar nomination, some flashes of brilliance (including a generic “bootcamp intro” sequence spiced up by the magnetic presence of Vince Vaughn–who apparently found his charisma in the pocket of a coat he hadn’t worn in a while–and by the largely unacknowledged fact that, in a hilarious twist on the formula, one of the recruits spends a huge chunk of it buck ass naked), and a nearly hour-long, harrowing, suspenseful, and disturbing (in all the best ways) climax that finally justifies the whole “scrappy underdog” narrative, and [deep breath] you’ll have something resembling the experience of viewing Hacksaw Ridge. Once the action shifts to the Japanese theater, Mel Gibson is 100% in his creative element, and starts telling a compelling story.
As far as conveying his spiritual beliefs through the medium of film, though, well… Gibson’s no Scorsese; as his gore-drenched imagery attests, he lacks any semblance of subtlety, and that applies twofold when it comes to his faith. And that kills my enthusiasm faster than the first Idaho farm boy up over the trench when the enemy’s next salvo starts.
[Originally written November 6, 2016.]