Gallipoli (1981) starring Mark Lee, Mel Gibson, Bill Hunter, Robert Grubb, Tim McKenzie, David Argue directed by Peter Weir Movie Review

Gallipoli (1981)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Mel Gibson as Frank Dunne in Gallipoli (1981)

Chariots of War

I'm a bit lost having watched "Gallipoli", not something I like to admit, but it is not the movie I was anticipating because whilst a war movie the actual war element is only the third act, before that we have 2 acts of male bonding. Now everything about "Gallipoli" is good or above average, Peter Weir's direction and Russell Boyd's cinematography is first rate as are the main performances from Mark Lee, Mel Gibson and Bill Hunter. But it because the first two thirds of the movie focuses on the male bonding it is not the war movie I was expecting even though when it does focus on the dramatic events at Gallipoli where hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders were massacred it is hard hitting an emotional.

Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) is a talented sprinter, the fastest in Western Australia and his father has high hopes for him except despite being under age Archy wants to enlist and become a Light Horse Man. At an athletics event Archy tries to enlist but despite his horse skills is rejected for being under age but in doing so he becomes mates with Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson - Tim) another runner who can't see the point in enlisting. As they travel together, heading for Perth and another chance for Archy to enlist they bond and slowly Frank likes the idea of becoming a Light Horse Man as well. Whilst Archy gets in this time Frank doesn't and ends up joining the infantry but it doesn't stop these men reuniting during training and heading to Gallipoli together with hundreds of other young Australians and New Zealanders.

Mark Lee as Archy Hamilton in Gallipoli (1981)

So here is the thing about "Gallipoli" the actual war element, the dramatization of what happened in 1915 when hundreds of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand were basically sent on a suicide mission only comes right at the end. It is a powerful ending, no doubt about that and director Peter Weir has done a fantastic job of not so much showing the harshness of war in the trenches but the realisation of the men who found themselves suddenly facing likely death. In fact the way the drama is played out with communication problems on the front line and one man racing back to get a message to the front line provides one of the most memorable climaxes of a war movie I have ever encountered.

But the thing is that the war element only comes at the end of "Gallipoli" and the first two thirds focuses on the friendship which forms between Archy and Frank after they meet at a race. It is certainly not what I was expecting but still very interesting as we have the naively patriotic Archy wanting to enlist whilst the more cynical Frank pretty much only looking out for himself. But it does make it curious because I would say there is an element of ambiguity over what this friendship is about in the context of the bigger picture. There is the aspect of coming of age as both Archy and Frank go from fun loving men to realising the seriousness of their decisions but there is also the closeness they have which could suggest deeper feelings of love. I honestly am not sure because it threw me a curve ball by not being what I expected and with the first 30 minutes being preoccupied with running I even wondered if I was watching the right movie.

Despite this "Gallipoli" is a seriously watchable movie, switching from easy going to serious as we make it to the war yet not in anyway over complex or deep, just a little ambiguous. The cinematography throughout is brilliant be it running across baking sand in Australia or messing about during training in Cairo and Weir's direction and his almost eclectic but memorable soundtrack which features works from Jean Michel Jarre is memorable. But of course we have a trio of performances and I say trio because Bill Hunter as Major Barton deserves praise for the final scenes as he faces a choice between disobeying orders or sending men to their likely death. Now it is Mel Gibson more than Mark Lee who grabs your attention but that is purely because Frank is the more dynamic character, a bit of a Jack the lad compared to Archy who is naive and innocent. But both Gibson and Lee delivery equally good performances which draws us into the friendship which forms between Archy and Frank.

What this all boils down to is that "Gallipoli" is not the movie I was expecting yet it is still a very good movie which whilst delivering a powerful look at an important day in the history of Australia and New Zealand also delivers this interesting look at a friendship.

Tags: World War I