Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge is a film at war with itself. Which makes perfect sense, because it's about a man at war with himself, and I'm pretty sure it was also made by a man at war with himself. The true-life story of Desmond Doss -- a Seventh Day Adventist whose religious beliefs prevented him from carrying a gun but who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions as a medic during the WWII battle for Okinawa -- seems ready-made for Gibson, a director whose obsession with both piety and gore runs deep. In Hacksaw Ridge those obsessions collide, and the results are often beautiful, occasionally infuriating and always fascinating.
As played by Andrew Garfield, Doss is a pleasant, sheltered young man raised in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He's made pacifism his personal salvation. Still, he enlists in the Army during the second world war, refusing even to pick up a gun, much to the bewilderment of his company's hard-ass drill sergeant (a very good Vince Vaughn). Once Doss gets to Okinawa, the quaint, almost insistently idealized filmmaking of the movie's first part starts to make sense -- all illusions about heroism and combat get ripped to shreds like our heroes' bodies.
Gibson has taken the formula of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan and turned it on its head; in that film, the graphic, shocking horror of D-Day came right at the beginning, so that the trauma haunted the rest of the story, informing all character interactions. Gibson makes us wait for the horror -- building to it like a showman, but then revealing something far worse than anything we'd imagined, effectively poisoning his own spectacle.