Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge premieres at Venice to (mostly) raves

Hacksaw Ridge cast and crew in Venice.

Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge, shot in Sydney last year, has debuted at the Venice Film Festival to (mostly) raves.

Gibson has "absolutely hit Hacksaw Ridge out of the park", said The Guardian in a four-star review. "As a machine-tooled vehicle for Mel Gibson's directorial comeback, Hacksaw Ridge couldn't be more perfect."

According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Gibson's forceful comeback is a violent drama about pacifism that succeeds in combining horror with grace", while The Telegraph called it "fantastically moving".

Variety described the film "an act of atonement that may succeed in bringing Gibson back" as well as "a testament to his filmmaking chops".

The pundits uniformly singled out the gruesomeness of the film's battle-heavy second half, as well as the skill with which Gibson presents it – "the battle scenes in Hacksaw Ridge make the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan look like a Noel Coward play", said the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle.

The pic's first half, in which Garfield's Desmond Doss falls in love, enlists, undergoes boot camp and is court-martialled for refusing to pick up a weapon, proved more divisive, with reviewers finding it either winningly sincere, if familiar, or just plain cheesy:

The film "groans under a first half which seems to deliver one cliché after the next: setting up its broad narrative beats for a payoff that appears to be waving a flag from the get-go," said Screen Daily. "Somewhere around the mid-way mark, though, Gibson draws himself up to unleash hell, hurling the Battle of Okinawa at the viewer in all its bloody fury and delivering a film which turns out to be a potent reminder of sacrifice, heroism, and the power of faith."

THR's David Rooney (himself an Australian) noted: "The movie was filmed in Australia, which explains the cast's strong local contingent, all of them convincingly playing American. Veterans Weaving and Griffiths bring troubled depths to their careworn characters, while Palmer makes what could have been just another decorative sweetheart role into a woman whose goodness, strength and loyalty make her a perfect match for Desmond. Also from the Oz casting pool, Richard Roxburgh shows up briefly as a military shrink, while Bracey's imposing physical presence and charismatic appeal command attention whenever he's onscreen."

As for the tech credits: "Cinematographer Simon Duggan, editor John Gilbert and visual effects supervisor Chris Godfrey show great skill at combining the murky near-blindness of a combat scene, ripped apart by grenade blasts, bullets and flames, with jolts of chilling lucidity."

IndieWire was less kind, querying the "strange choices from the [pic's] first part, like cinematographer Simon Duggan’s decision to overlight most shots".

Gibson, Bracey, Weaving, Palmer and producer Bill Mechanic were all on hand for the Lido premiere. The film, which Icon releases locally on Nov 3, "opens with a good chance of becoming a player during awards season", per Variety.