However heavy the baggage that Mel Gibson carries from a decade ago, the audience screening his World War II battlefield hero movie “Hacksaw Ridge” at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills Monday night looked past it — to the movie itself.
As Gibson walked down the aisle to take the stage with fellow producers and key cast members, the audience gave a standing ovation. It was a departure from the typical Hollywood premiere, where the main introductions take place before the screening.
Gibson quickly turned the attention to the main character’s real-life son, Desmond Doss Jr., who was a surprise guest for the screening.
“Hacksaw Ridge” tells the story of Desmond Doss Sr., a conscientious objector who fought for his right to take the battlefield without a gun, serving as a medic in Japan. He rescued 75 soldiers during the battle of Okinawa and was the first conscientious objector in history to be awarded the Medal of Honor, an honor designated for battlefield heroics.
“Some say it’s a war film. I think it’s a love story,” Gibson said before the film.
The 131-minute barrage of floor-rattling sound and relentless gruesome death left the Academy audience shell-shocked. After the credits and the speeches, the crowd spoke in hushed tones.
“It’s a movie that does that to you,” producer Mechanic told TheWrap after the screening.
“Everybody is a bit stunned. It takes a little while to filter through the brain and react. When I saw ‘Taxi Driver,’ [it] was like that or ‘Deer Hunter.’ How long has it been since you’ve seen one of those movies?”
Mechanic made the comments as Gibson and Vince Vaughn also hung around in the Samuel Goldwyn theater, taking pictures with fans as Andrew Garfield huddled on stage in an intense one-on-one with Doss Jr. during their first meeting.
The lead character’s son, who lives in Washington State, did not initially know the film was being made. “It’s a long story,” he said of how he got involved with the filmmakers. “I heard about it on Facebook,” he told TheWrap on the way to the afterparty.
Many of the after party shots seemed destined to end up on Facebook themselves, with guests asking for pictures with Vaughn and guests like Gerard Butler in the dimly lit Academy lobby. Waiters passed filet mignon bites and shrimp through the crowd as a gaggle of agents congratulated Gibson.
Hours earlier, the Hollywood Film Awards announced that Gibson will receive the Director’s Award at their show on Nov. 6. It marks another step on the road to industry repatriation, following his presentation at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Grant Night this past summer and his Golden Globes appearance in January.
“I’m proud to support an extraordinary producer who’s witnessing the comeback of his career,” producer Lauren Selig told TheWrap at the afterparty. Selig (“Lone Survivor”), who has the Tom Cruise and Jesse Plemons actioner “American Made” coming next year, has a longstanding relationship with the actor-director-producer.
As part of that comeback, Gibson was endearingly rusty in buttoning up his heartfelt speech to the crowd.
“Hey, go home,” Gibson concluded on stage. “Thanks so much.”
Lionsgate releases “Hacksaw Ridge” on Nov. 4.