“Gallipoli” is a war movie by Peter Weir. It was part of the wave of Australian classics of the 1980s that included “Breaker Morant” and “The Lighthorsemen”. Weir was inspired by the story of the ANZAC (Australian - New Zealand Army Corps) contribution to the British effort in the Gallipoli campaign of WWI. Early on the project evolved from a study of the entire campaign to a more personal study set in a brief period of the campaign. It stars Mel Gibson (coming off of “Mad Max”) and a debuting Mark Lee.
The movie begins in western Australia (lovely vistas) in May, 1915. Archy (Lee) is a promising sprinter, but longs to enlist in the Light Horse. He represents the stereotypical naïve patriot. “If we don’t stop them [in Turkey], they could end up here” (the Australian “Domino Theory”?). His family is against him going to war because he has a bright future being alive. They relent, of course but not before his uncle/mentor reads the scene in “The Jungle Book” where Mowgli decides to leave the jungle saying “Now I will go to men.”
Archy befriends Frank (Gibson) who represents the stereotypical reluctant, cynical warrior. “It’s not our bloody war! It’s an English war. It’s got nothing to do with us”. He bonds with fellow runner Archy and through their friendship and the application of the wonders of peer pressure, he enlists too. They go into different units, but are reunited in Egypt for the training/whoring scenes obligatory for a war movie. There is some local color featuring a bazaar and a brothel. The lads are seeing the world.
|one actor went on to great fame, the other was a good person|
Then it’s off to the Gallipoli beachhead and a wonderfully staged nighttime landing. The Australians are trapped along a narrow stretch with the Turks holding the high ground where they are dug in with artillery and machine guns. Fortunately ladies, the Bruces insist on bathing in the ocean with shrapnel roiling the water. This is fortunate because Mel Gibson exposes his bare butt. The life in the trenches is realistically depicted. The soldiers eat hard tack and there are flies! Critters in a war movie, imagine that.
The big battle is coming and it is to be a diversion for a British landing at Suvla Bay designed to break the deadlock. Those dastardly Brits are going to use the colonials in a suicide attack to suit their own purposes! If the landing succeeds, it’s on to Constantinople to knock Turkey out of the war which will lead to the defeat of Germany. Just like the Somme! Oh, and not to worry Aussies, the preliminary bombardment will make the attack a cake walk. Just like the Somme!
The bombardment is cinematically short, but realistically violent. The first attack is futile against the Turkish machine guns as is the second. Major Barton (representing the stereotypical sensitive officer like Col. Dax in “Paths of Glory”) wants to get the attack called off, but the telephone wire has been cut. He needs a really, really fast runner to rush the request to Colonel Robinson. Lucky for him Frank is a very fast runner. He runs to new ageish music which sounds like “Chariots of Fire”, but clashes with the rest of the mostly classical sound track. Col. Robinson (a stereotypical British twit reminiscent of Gen. Mireau in “Paths”) refuses to cancel the attack so Frank is sent to the general. The general decides to cancel the attack, but meanwhile the line is repaired and even Frank cannot outrun a telephone call from the colonel that orders the attack.
The soldiers, including Archy, are unaware of the race against idiocy. They prepare for death by leaving mementoes in the trench. Archy leaves a track medal (lost potential) and a watch (lost future). The movie ends with Archie reenacting Robert Capa’s iconic Spanish Civil War photo entitled “The Falling Soldier”.
“Gallipoli” is well done and was influential on war movies of the eighties. It is fairly accurate, but piles on the British to elicit nods from its core audience which still resents Britain’s misuse of the ANZAC. In actuality, Col. Robinson was a Col. Antill who was Australian, as was the general who planned the attack. Also, the Battle of the Nek was a diversion for a New Zealand attack, not the British landing at Suvla Bay. It is obvious Weir changed the facts to enhance the anti-British theme. He had to apologize later.
The acting is okay, if a bit over the top. Gibson is a young Mel Gibson, nuff said. Lee is a little e bland, but so is his character. It’s themes of the loss of innocence and the futility of war are commendable. It is definitely anti-war. It is a buddy picture with some hints of a bromance between Archy and Frank which I feel it’s safe to say escaped Gibson’s notice when he read the script. I do think some critics have overemphasized the homosexual angle. Although the unrealistic way the cynical Frank runs off to a war because of his friendship with Archy gives ammunition to their argument.
Not a bad movie, but not as good as "Breaker Morant" and not worthy of the 100 Best.
GRADE = B-