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Gallipoli Movie Review

archy gibson frank film

1981 – Peter Weir –

This Australian film about the World War I massacre of Australian troops at Gallipoli in Turkey makes a telling point about the futility and butchery of war. The film begins with a training session for Archy (Mark Lee), a gifted runner who plans to compete in an upcoming event. After narrowly defeating Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) at this contest, Archy becomes friends with Frank. These runners seem to differ only in their views about the war, which Archy, like most of his mates, longs to experience and Frank clearly can do without. Though underage, Archy not only enlists in the Lighthorsemen under an alias but talks Frank into joining him. They train in Cairo, bond with fellow soldiers, laugh at the pre-fur-lough hygiene lecture, and are eventually shipped off with the others to Turkey.

Gibson is the more effective of the two leads, but Lee's character is the tougher to personalize. Archy has been conceived and written as an illustration of the typical patriotic boy of the early century who dreams of success in the military and naively believes that the war will be over in a matter of months. Lee's success at playing Archy may partly come across in his general rather than specific traits: his fresh-faced quality, the love he has for the uncle who helps him train and who wants him to break the record for the 100-yard dash, his confident certainty about the rightness of his beliefs. As Archy and Frank trek across the outback to get to a recruiting station, they meet up with a drifter (Harold Baigent) who has been away from cities for so long he has not even heard about the war. Archy fills him in on the conflict, but the drifter still cannot understand why European aggression should affect life in Australia. After Archy supplies the simplistic, rote response that they are enlisting to stop Germany from taking over Australia, the old man looks across the lifeless flats and says, “Well, they're welcome to it.” This comment and Gibson's horsey laugh of agreement reflect the film's point of view. It's representative of both the intensity and perhaps even the lack of subtlety with which the film delivers its point.

The final scenes, when the troops are entrenched to charge the Turkish gun emplacements, are the most harrowing. Otherwise inconsequential events like an error in timing, a miscommunication between officers, and the desire to save face lead to the order for the Australians to charge after the Turks have returned to their guns rather than while they are occupied by artillery shelling. Wave after wave of Australian troops are mowed down by machine gun fire within feet of having gone over the top. Gibson, the company runner, sprints to deliver the message to halt before another surge of troops is sacrificed. According to the strictures of their national pride, these men prepare for what is certain to be their deaths, leaving valuables such as rings and lockets in the trenches and hastily composing letters to loved ones that will contain their last words.

Cast: Mark Lee (Archy), Mel Gibson (Frank Dunne), Bill Kerr (Uncle Jack), Harold Baigent (Camel Driver), Harold Hopkins (Les McCann), Charles Yunupingu (Zac), Heath Harris (Stockman), Ronny Graham (Wallace Hamilton), Gerda Nicolson (Rose Hamilton), Robert Grubb (Billy), Tim McKenzie (Barney), David Argue (Snowy), Brian Anderson (Railway Foreman) Screenwriter: Peter Weir, David Williamson Cinematographer: Russell Boyd Composer: Brian May Producer: Robert Stigwood and Patricia Lovell; released by Paramount MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 110 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Australian Film Institute, 1981: Actor (Mel Gibson), Film.

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