By – Gareth Jones
For fans of Peter Weir, War films, Mel Gibson early work, Australian history
It is astonishing that there had not been a major film about the events at Gallipoli and the contributions of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (or ANZAC for short) to World War I before Peter Weir’s film in 1981. It is considered one of the most important moments in Australian history as it came on the heels of Australia officially becoming a commonwealth country in 1901. ANZAC Day (April 25) is celebrated more than that date now. More Austrailans and New Zealanders died in World War I than any other country per capita, a heartbreaking number that decimated a generation of young men and changed the path of the country in many ways. This was exemplified by the battle of Gallipoli where thousands of soldiers were killed in Turkey in an effort to distract the Turkish army (allies of Germany) away from the British forces that were trying to land. What resulted is a day of sacrifice that to this day is heralded by Australians. For many, including the filmmakers of Gallipoli this was the day that Australia started to develop its identity for good or ill. So, there is definitely much to be learned from a viewing of Gallipoli, but it is also an extremely entertaining film with a profound ending.
It tells the story of two young runners who enlist in the cause to support the United Kingdom in World War I. These two men are played by one future star, Mel Gibson (in his first major role after his star-making role in Mad Max) as Frank Dunne and Mark Lee as Archie Hamilton. Frank is the cynical city dweller from Perth who joins up with his mates after he fails to be picked as a Lighthorseman. Archie is from the bush and is an expert horseman and is only able to sign up by traveling to Perth so that they will not know who he is and how old he is. His story is similar to so many young men who found ways to sign up despite their being underage. Mark Lee was originally cast as just a fill-in for horse photography but the filmmakers were so impressed with him that they cast him in the lead role. He more than holds his own with Gibson as he brings a striking youthful exuberance and naivety to the role. That being said, Mel is perfectly cast and this role helped cement his career as an action star. He also expertly portrayed the persona of a larrikin, the stereotypically boisterous, cheeky, yet lovable Australian.
The film is directed by Peter Weir, who had already made two extraordinary films, The Last Wave and Picnic at Hanging Rock, as well as several other strong ones. In many ways, he was an unusual person to make this film as he was directly involved in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War, but he brings a well-developed balance to the story. This ability to tell authentic stories became his calling card as he was lured by Hollywood to make such films as The Truman Show and the quintessential naval battle film, Master and Commander.
It is strange to look back at this film and see a young Mel Gibson and not feel differently about him and all of the hatred he has spewed in the more recent past and the impact of The Last Temptation of Christ. His legacy is definitely complicated. It may also be surprising to see two producer names in the credits. Rupert Murdoch years before destroying the news world, helped get this film made because of his own father’s journalism connections to the war. The other name is Robert Stigwood, the man behind Grease and Saturday Night Fever.
Gallipoli is a very important film about a relatively unknown battle outside of Australia and New Zealand and inspite of how one feels about some of the people involved is worth a viewing. If nothing else, you can enjoy the gloriously ridiculous synth music score of Jean-Michele Jarre.
Available to stream on Amazon
Written by: jamric
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