Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#1,829. Gallipoli (1981) - Spotlight on Australia

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 a story of friendship, following the exploits of two young men as they embark on a series of adventures that will strengthen the bond between them, and a war that may just 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 for the war effort, Archy tries to enlist in the Australian Light Horse Brigade, only to be rejected because to his age.

When Frank suggests that Archy try his luck again in a new city, the two hop a train, then hike 50 miles through the Outback to Frank’s home town of Perth. Once there, Archy’s dream of joining the Light Horse Brigade is finally realized.

As for Frank, who is 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 attempts to enlist in the Brigade, and is turned away because he has very little riding experience.

Shortly after Archy is sent overseas, Frank bumps into 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. The two buddies meet up again, and Archy asks Major Barton (Bill Hunter) to allow Frank to transfer to the Light Horse Brigade. The request is approved.

And just in the nick of time. Orders have come through for the Brigade to set out for Gallipoli, on the Turkish Peninsula, where they are to take part in a campaign that, if successful, will 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 realize it may be the end for them both.

With the international success of movies like Mad Max, Mel Gibson was on his way to becoming a star by the time he made this film, yet his character is not the main focus of the story. Instead, Gallipoli dedicates a fair portion of its runtime 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 even 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 barefooted. Lee brings a quiet optimism to the role of Archy, who is ready to lay down his life for his country. That said, Gibson is equally superb as the cynical Frank, and often overshadows his co-star in the scenes they share.

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 the movie’s most poignant scenes, including a finale you won't soon forget.

Along with its convincing anti-war message (like other fine WWI films, this movie perfectly recreate the horrific conditions of 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, butt is only one aspect of what proves to be an exceptional motion picture.

No comments: