Friday, February 4, 2011

CRACKER? "Gallipoli"


     “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-


  1. It happens to be one of my Top 10 so we have to agree we disagree or what was the line? Australian New Wave is the term, btw. Peter Weir also happens to be one of my favourite filmmakers and was long before he did Master and Commander. I truly like Mel Gibson in this. I find the music BAD and amazed you didn't point this out. It does a great disservice to this movie. Haven't reviewed it yet but might do soon, although I will have to re-watch it first. Homosexual angle? Here as well? Why do I never get this?

  2. "We agree to disagree." I did not catch the gay angle either. I read it in my research, but do not agree with the theory. BTW according to the theory, that is why Archy meets his end (so he does not have the chance to jump in the bunk with Frank) - crazy huh.

    I can see it in your personal top 10, but not in the 10 Best War Movies. Australia's Breaker Morant" and Weir's "Master and Commander" are both superior, to name just two that are related. I have not seen "The Lighthorsemen" lately, so I can not say about it.

    I actually liked the classical pieces, but disliked the score by Brian May.

    As far as Mel, he does a good job and I appreciate the fact the movie was pre-torture days. He seems to insist on his characters suffering significant physical pain lately. It's amazing he decided not to play Christ in "The Passion", but he certainly story-boarded the torture stuff.

  3. I should have been more precise when talking about the music. The classical parts are indeed OK but the modern score is bad, yes. I sort agree with you, it is not a flawless movie, far from it but considering how many are in the Military Magazine list, it would deserve a place in the lower ranks at least and it is definitely a war movie and gives the best idea of what it was like to senselessly get out of those trenches knowing well you were never going to make it and still having to go. I will visit Gallipoli one day, the trenches are untouched.

  4. Weir was inspired to do the movie after a visit to those trenches. He also took a dip in the sea which inspired the bathing scene. So don't forget to do that, too. I agree that it is better than several that I have reviewed so far from the 100 Greatest and probably better than some coming up. You may be right about it cracking the 100 Best, now that I think about it.

  5. Homosexual angle?

    What is wrong with these critics - why can't a pair of blokes be mates? Who are these idiots.

    If that's the case these same critics would take a dim view of rugby and that other idiot football code they show in the movie.

    Also I thought the end of the movie Archie was just finishing the sprint as he had been taught at the start of the movie.

    Hate the Poms? Sure thing! Weir may have got the details wrong but the campaign was still Britian's idea.

    Having said that there is no resentment of the Turks. Australian's are odd - we celebrate/commemorate the failed invasion of another country.

    Today at Gallipoli the following words of Ataturk are on the memorial at ANZAC Cove.

    "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
    You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…
    You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."
    Ataturk, 1934


  6. What prob keeps this from being on the top 100 is the pretty long buildup in Australia before the two reach Galipoli. This is really more of a "coming of age" story even tho the two main characters are not boys.
    This is also an early Weir and it shows somewhat. I still like this and another 80s movie of his The Year of Living Dangerously made two years later. The war scenes are excellent tho and the trenches very well recreated. The whole sprinting idea was creative and very very ironic considering no matter if you ran like the flash the odds of surviving going over the top were close to nill. I wouldnt call this an anti-war movie so much as a stupidity and vanity of some leaders at war.
    Master and Commander is a better made movie. But it is more of an epic and with a much bigger budget. Weir had improved his directing alot by then.
    Never even thought of the homosexual angle either. This is just a buddy picture to me.
    The music was that typical 80's electronic stuff. Sorta like in Flash Gordon or even Halloween. It works ok.
    The ending is very effective and memorable. You want the "golden boy" to make it. But where would he go? Its one reason this movie is remembered among the cluster of 80's movies.

  7. Thanks for the input. Some very interesting points. Love the Ataturk quote! As to the music, it is of the "Chariots of Fire" style. "Where would he go?" Indeed, and when he got there, what would he do having thrown away his weapon?

  8. The Swedish government was responsible for the most iron ore the Nazis received. Kiruna-Gällivare ore fields in Northern Sweden were all important to Nazi Germany.

    These massive deliveries of iron ore and military facilities from Sweden to Nazi Germany lengthened World War II. Casualties of the war have been estimated at 20 million killed in Europe. How many of them died due to Sweden's material support to Nazi Germany, is not known.

    The Swedish drinking toast (skal) has a rather macabre background; it originally meant 'skull'. The word has come down from a custom practiced by the warlike and terrorist Vikings who used the dried-out skulls of their enemies as drinking mugs, with the evident advantage that the mug held a large quantity of mead and could be easily replaced.

    The Viking raids are remembered: Spanish-speaking mothers warn their children that if they do not behave, el noruego - the Norwegian will carry them off.

  9. I've visited Anzac Cove -- gorgeous and chilling. A very good Turkish miltary historian/tour guide said the main inaccuracy about the recreated battlefield in the film was that the sun glints off the bayonets the wrong way in the final scene before they go over the top. The part about the Brits "drinking cups of tea" on the beach at Suvla is dead wrong, although the Aussies may have believed it at the time. The attack from Suvla stalled because of command bungling, and the troops were left on the beach all day, desperate for a drink of water. I never considered the homo angle in Gallipoli (the film) either.

  10. Thanks for the input. I guess if that's the major inaccuracy, then the movie must be pretty accurate.

  11. Good review. As a film purely, its vg. But the historical distortion is appalling and verges on the offensive to we British.


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