Gallipoli is Australia’s quintessential war movie. It works as a stirring tribute to the ANZAC’s (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), a condemnation of the travesty which is war, and a commentary on just what drives men to sign up for the Armed forces be it duty of country, a sense of adventure, the sex appeal of being in uniform, or buying into the propaganda war machine.
Yet its main theme is the mateship between its two lead characters and indeed the mateship between every soldier.
The film is set in Western Australia, 1915, where two rival athletes – one an 18 year old patriotic farmhand (Mark Lee), the other an opportunistic nomad (Mel Gibson) – who form a strong bond whilst travelling to Perth in order to join the Australian Army in the battle against Turkish forces in Gallipoli.
Director Peter Weir and his crew have placed great strain into creating Australia circa 1915, with impeccable costume and production designs. Gallipoli was mainly shot in rural South Australia, with cinematographer Russell Boyd capturing the outback in all of its banal yet majestic glory. However, several key scenes are marred by composer Brain May’s decision to use electronic synthesisers during the films score, which clashes against the films early 20th Century setting.
The most interesting scenes are the ones set and filmed in Cairo, Egypt, where the Anzacs were trained to fight against “the enemy”, while craving to the temptations of the flesh in the city’s various whore houses, and the con of various antique merchants. And it’s quite a sight viewing a game of Aussie rules played against the backdrop of the great pyramids.
Gibson and Lee both play their roles convincingly. Gibson in particular is especially good, his naturality and expressive features lending credence to his character, as he transforms into the fine actor which we know today. Bill Kerr and the legendary Bill Hunter provide memorable supporting roles.
Weir and screenwriter David Williamson have done a commendable job developing these characters. It is a move which pays off during the films final tragic moments that take on a whole new level of emotions.
In fact, the film contains such a tragic and sad conclusion (which is shot in stark detail complete with a closing still image sure to haunt the soul for days on end) that this critic considers Gallipoli – along with Rocky and Field of Dreams – to be an essential tearjerker catered for men.