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The film unspooled this weekend at the Venice Film Festival. Is this Mel Gibson’s act of redemption?
Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” which premiered today at the 73rd International Venice Film Festival, is a brutally effective, bristlingly idiosyncratic combat saga — the true story of a man of peace caught up in the inferno of World War II. It’s the first movie Gibson has directed since “Apocalypto,” 10 years ago (a film he’d already shot before the scandals that engulfed him), and this November, when it opens with a good chance of becoming a player during awards season, it will likely prove to be the first film in a decade that can mark his re-entry into the heart of the industry. Yet to say that “Hacksaw Ridge” finally leaves the Gibson scandals behind isn’t quite right; it has been made in their shadow. On some not-so-hard-to-read level, the film is conceived and presented as an act of atonement.
Ten years have passed along with much uncomfortable tabloid scrutiny since Mel Gibson’s last film as director, Apocalypto. Back in the saddle with Hacksaw Ridge, he once again proves himself a muscular storyteller who knows exactly how to raise a pulse, heighten emotion and build intensity to explosive peaks. Themes of courage, patriotism, faith and unwavering adherence to personal beliefs have been a constant through Gibson’s directing projects, as has a fascination with bloodshed and gore. Those qualities serve this powerful true story of heroism without violence extremely well, overcoming its occasional cliched battle-movie tropes to provide stirring drama.
From The Guardian:
As a machine-tooled vehicle for Mel Gibson’s directorial comeback,Hacksaw Ridge couldn’t be more perfect. A study of a second world war conscientious objector who demonstrated extreme bravery under enemy fire (and won the Medal of Honor), the film allows Gibson to identify himself with a tough guy of considerable moral virtue, someone who has gone through through their own modern Calvary, taken the punishment, and come through the other side relatively unscathed. And the foundation for all this? An unswerving commitment to a little-understood corner of the Christian faith (in this case, Seventh Day Adventism), which triggers – in order – bafflement, ridicule, and finally respect. That, presumably, is how Gibson see his own journey, which began its descent after the volley of abuse he aimed at cops in 2006 after being stopped for drink driving. That year saw the release of Apocalypto, his Mayan-language thriller; it’s taken him a decade of public humiliation, frequent apologies, and occasional forays as an actor, to get to the position where he can release another film he’s directed. And as repellent a figure as many may still find Gibson, I have to report he’s absolutely hit Hacksaw Ridge out of the park.
The movie opens in theaters in the United States in November.
UPDATE:Deadline.com has a glimpse at the audience’s reaction to the screening:
The film played to a roughly 10-minute standing ovation — long standing-Os are not as common a happenstance on the Lido as they are at some other festivals. At about six minutes into the ovation, Gibson and the actors were asked to go down into the audience. Check out the photos from inside the Sala Grande below (outside, some fans greeted Gibson with their faces painted blue, Braveheart-style). This is the first film Gibson has directed in a decade and last night at the gala premiere, he and the actors were “overwhelmed” and “very truly speechless,” I’m told by a person close to the gang. A private dinner followed hosted by Hacksaw‘s Italian distributors, Andrea Leone and Eagle Pictures. There were emotional toasts, notably by producer Bill Mechanic who worked for 13 years to bring the project to life. While at Fox, Mechanic worked with Gibson onBraveheart and called Hacksaw the director’s “greatest film.” One attendee observed, “It was particularly meaningful.”