Let’s address the Mel thing straight away – I don’t care that another indulged white man went off the rails and is now seeking redemption. His struggle with his demons is just another means of validating his original offences. But there is an argument that all art deserves to be judged independently of its creator. This stance is not as straightforward as it seems – it depends on the nature of the crime, the value of the art and the individual viewer. For instance, the crimes of Lost Prophets singer Ian Watkins are so disturbing that I would imagine it is impossible to listen to their work now (I never did in the first place). But I can watch Chinatown and divorce that from Roman Polanski being a creep, but I would understand if others couldn’t.
So with Gibson the value is with whether the combination of his history and our reaction to it, helps make his work more interesting. There was a sign of this with last year’s Blood Father which played with Gibson’s alcoholic and racist past to establish a bit more depth to the redemption thriller. With Hacksaw Ridge it is less to the fore, but in this tale of the conscientious objector who saves 75 US marines on one night, there are key themes that riff on this combination. A confrontation with the consequences of his violent upbringing, combined with strong religious conviction leads Andrew Garfield’s Desmond Doss to take his principled stance. The build up and violent, realistic war scenes will be familiar enough to viewers of Band of Brothers and The Pacific. It’s hard not to be moved by Doss’s persistence and the finale is suitably moving and ennobling.
But the real interest in the film is pitching this non-violence, alternative take on heroism into the current US political climate. If we think the reaction against Doss’s stance lacks understanding in the 40s, then it would be vitriolic from Trump supporters. If the message we can take from Hacksaw Ridge is that sticking to core values will be recognised in the end, then from education to law, that will resonate with those suffering under the current administration. This is made more intriguing by Gibson being the bearer of the message. And apart from all that, it’s a cracking war film.