Directed By: Peter Weir
Starring: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr
Tag line: "From a place you've never heard of, comes a story you'll never forget"
Trivia: Peter Weir was inspired to make this film after visiting a World War I battle site
Inspired in part by the Battle of the Nek, a World War I skirmish in which 372 Australians lost their lives on a Turkish battlefield, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli is ultimately a story of friendship, following two young men as they embark on a series of adventures that strengthens the bond between them, and a war that threatens to tear them apart.
Western Australia, 1915. After competing against each other in a carnival-sponsored foot race, teenager Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and former railroad worker Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) become fast friends. Eager to do his part in the war, Archy attempts to enlist in the Australian Light Horse Brigade, but is rejected due to his age. When Frank suggests that Archy try his luck again in a new city, they hop a train, then hike 50 miles through the Outback to reach Frank’s home town of Perth. Once there, Archy’s dreams of joining the Light Horse Brigade are finally realized. As for Frank, who’s the son of an Irish immigrant, he never intended to join the military, believing the war should be left to the British. Still, to remain at Archy’s side, he also tries to enlist in the Brigade, only to be turned down because he has very little riding experience.
Soon after Archy heads overseas, Frank bumps into his former co-workers, Bill (Robert Grubb), Barney (Tim McKenzie), and Snowy (David Argue), all of whom are enlisting in the Infantry. Figuring he has nothing better to do, Frank signs up as well, and before long the four are headed to Cairo for basic training. As luck would have it, Archy is also stationed there, and shortly after the two meet up again, they ask Major Barton (Bill Hunter) to allow Frank to transfer to the Light Horse Brigade. Their request is approved, and just in the nick of time, because orders have come through stating the Brigade is to be sent to Gallipoli on the Turkish Peninsula, where they’re to take part in a campaign designed to drive the Turks out of the war. But life in the trenches proves difficult, and when the High Command orders an advance, both Archy and Frank find themselves facing a situation they’re not entirely prepared for.
Thanks to the international success of movies like Mad Max, Mel Gibson was on his way to becoming a star when he made this film, yet his character is not the main focus of the story; instead, Gallipoli dedicates a fair portion of time to Mark Lee’s Archy. In the opening sequences, we watch as Archy trains with his uncle Jack (Bill Kerr) to become a world-class sprinter, and at one point he challenges a farmhand (played by Harold Hopkins) to a long-distance race, allowing his opponent to ride on horseback while he himself traverses the rugged terrain in bare feet. Lee brings a quiet optimism to the role of Archy, who’s ready to lay down his life for his country. That said, Gibson is excellent as the cynical Frank, and often overshadows his co-star in the scenes they share together. In addition to its fine performances, Gallipoli features a handful of intensely dramatic sequences (like the duo’s 50-mile trek across the Outback) and some positively beautiful imagery (a scene where the two friends climb the Great Pyramid of Giza at sunset is absolutely breathtaking), yet it’s the final act, set during the war, that offers up the movie’s most poignant scenes, including a finale you won't soon forget.
Though it delivers a convincing anti-war message (as do most films that recreate the horrific conditions of WWI trench warfare), Gallipoli is also an entertaining buddy film as well as a rousing tale of adventure. Its conclusion, a powerful, heartbreaking look at a terrible moment in history, is certainly effective, yet is only one aspect of what proves to be an exceptional motion picture.