Hero may save Mel Gibson

By Rebecca Hawkes

War drama directed by Gibson could restore respectability.
Mel Gibson's most recent high-profile screen role was as a villainous arms dealer in The Expendables 3.
Mel Gibson's most recent high-profile screen role was as a villainous arms dealer in The Expendables 3.

It's been four years since Mel Gibson directed a movie - and even longer since he was a Hollywood force to be reckoned with. His 2012 directorial effort Get the Gringo impressed critics but went straight to video in the US, while his most recent high-profile appearance on the big screen was as a villainous arms dealer in The Expendables 3 (a review deemed it "probably the only kind of role he can pull off in this still utterly toxic phase of his career").

Prior to this, the actor-director managed to alienate both fans and his movie-world colleagues with a string of public disgraces, including several incidents fuelled by his long-term battle with alcoholism and a deeply offensive anti-Semitic rant, delivered after his arrest for driving under the influence in 2006.

For some, the star of the original Mad Max trilogy and former "sexiest man alive" will always be a pariah, but if the reaction to his latest project is anything to go by, it looks as if Gibson could be making his most convincing comeback yet. War drama Hacksaw Ridge recently had an awards season-friendly release date confirmed - it'll be in cinemas on November 4 this year - and according to a report from Deadline, has "tested through the roof" at early screenings.

Crucially, it looks as if Gibson may have found a real-life story more exciting than any he's taken on before (Christians might argue that this accolade should probably go to The Passion of the Christ; passionate Scots with a disregard for historical accuracy may opt for Braveheart).

Hacksaw Ridge stars former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield as a World War II medic named Desmond T Doss: the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honour (the US' most prestigious military award).

To modern audiences, most of whom will have little experience of frontline conflict, Doss' feats belong to the realm of the unimaginable.

During battles in the Pacific island of Guam and, most famously, in Okinawa, the then-26-year-old risked his life again and again, exposing himself to gunfire to carry his injured companions to safety - and doing it all while refusing to carry any form of weapon.

They were taught to kill the medics for the reason it broke down the morale of the men.
Desmond T Doss

He was devoutly Christian, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and was unusually, unfashionably (even for America, even for the 1940s) tenacious in his beliefs. Unable to reconcile his adherence to the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" with a role as a soldier, but nonetheless patriotic, he was classed as a conscientious objector and joined the army as a medic.

Unlike many other medics, he also refused to carry any form of knife or gun, determined that, no matter what situation he found himself in, he would not take the life of another human being. Instead, Doss' heroism is remembered today for the number of lives he saved.

"The Japanese were out to get the medics," he later recalled. "They were taught to kill the medics for the reason it broke down the morale of the men, because if the medic was gone they had no one to take care of them. All the medics were armed, except me."

The story of Doss (who died in 2006 at the age of 87) has previously been made into a documentary, but Hacksaw Ridge will be the first major film based on his wartime exploits.

Starring Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington and Hugo Weaving alongside Garfield, it looks to be a big budget production.

Last year, on-set pictures from filming in New South Wales revealed hundreds of khaki-clad extras and an impressive recreation of a muddy battlefield, complete with smoky explosions and prostrate bodies.

Whether or not the film really will restore Gibson to awards-ceremony respectability and acclaim remains to be seen.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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