Talented teenage sprinter Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) dreams of escaping his isolated West Australian outback home to join the First World War effort abroad. Crossing paths with fellow sprinter and war adversary Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) at a country athletics meet, the two strike up an unlikely friendship and, after some emotional persuasion, Archy persuades Frank to sign up with him; Archy in the Lighthorse, Frank the infantry. It's not long before they are training in Egypt and, when Frank is transferred to the same Lighthorse division as Archy, the two mates are re-united and shipped off to the front line at Gallipoli, Turkey, where the Australian soldiers are to lead an aggressive offensive against a well fortified Turkish army.
Review by Craig Miller:
In a time where talk about the quality of Australian films is reaching fever pitch, it's a joy to indulge in an Aussie flick that is universally considered one of our very best. In fact, Peter Weir's Gallipoli may well be the very heart of Australian cinema.
This iconic Aussie flick, shot on a budget next to nix predominately in South Australia and on location in Egypt, is a personal and emotionally devastatingly drama about two young men and the idea of mateship that is so ingrained into our identity it's all but impossible to separate it from our individual personalities. It's this feeling that Weir captures perfectly, the "doing it for the man beside you" attitude, that makes it speak to us from both a filmic and cultural standpoint.
All Weir's films have a strong visual sense to them - a naturally talented filmmaker who knows what the real focus of a scene should be - and Gallipoli is no exception, with its long desert shots and intimate trench camera work capturing mood perfectly. There is nothing pretentious or unnecessary in Weir's work, it's focused, deliberate and articulate filmmaking.
Mark Lee's naïve, idealistic Archy Hamilton, whose simple farm boy life has sheltered him from the harsh realities of the world and the war, is wonderfully juxtaposed against Mel Gibson's more weathered and worldly Frank and the two deliver strong performances. From an acting point of view, Gibson has the more enviable role as the cynical wanderer who knows better than to let himself be used to fight another country's war, but Lee's emotional portrayal of a kid so eager to do his bit for kin and country is just as inspiring.
The story is extremely well paced, spending as much time exploring the lives of the two young heroes and their Aussie identities as it does on the nonsensical nature of war and the utter hell that was the Australian campaign in Gallipoli. It is as much a war film as it is a piece on culture and what it means to be Australian. It's a bloody ripper!
While the transfer and audio of this fine Aussie film look to have been tidied up pretty well for its DVD release, there are still niggles with the 5.1 soundtrack as well as the picture, which at times looks a little grainy.
The extras package works better technically with 20th Century Fox having rummaged around the archives and assembled a nice collection of bonus material and, to its credit, also commissioned some contemporary interviews.
Since there is no audio commentary or behind the scenes/making of feature, these interviews with director Peter Weir and star Mel Gibson serve as the film's history and together make fascinating listening. Weir's contribution is by far the most interesting (he reads from historical texts as well as from his own journal of the time) as he recounts getting the film made as well as personal experiences plus his feelings towards the battle. Seeing Weir stumble emotionally as he recounts stories of our lost heroes is powerful stuff. Gibson's twenty minute chat is much more focused on his own memory of the time but it's still interesting to hear his thoughts on fellow actors and his time on the set.
There's a stirring thirty-minute documentary on the Boys from the Dardenelles which features images and footage from the battle field and is narrated by those men who actually fought there, as well as an impressive photo gallery feature which consists of stills from the film and behind-the-scenes put to music from the film, and an absorbing twenty five page letter from Keith Murdoch detailing the appalling conditions our soldiers faced - and what he thought about the British government's war strategy.
Perfectly capturing the true nature of Australian spirit, Peter Weir's Gallipoli not only takes us on a journey from the harsh Aussie outback to the frontline of Gallipoli, but also deep within our own selves to reveal ideas on what is considered a large part of our national identity...mate-ship. It may not be the best Australian film ever but I certainly can't think of one better.
Published April 21, 2005
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GALLIPOLI: DVD (PG)
CAST: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr, Robert Grubb, Tim McKenzie, David Argue, Bill Hunter
DIRECTOR: Peter Weir
SCRIPT: Peter Weir & David Williamson
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
PRESENTATION: Widescreen 2.45:1, 19:9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1
SPECIAL FEATURES: Peter Weir interview, Mel Gibson interview, Documentary: Boys from the Dardenelles, The Keith Murdoch Letter, Educational Material, Photo Gallery, Biographies.
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: April 13, 2005