Friday, January 05, 2018
Directed by Peter Weir and screenplay by David Williamson from a story by Weir, Gallipoli is the story of two Australian runners who join the service in the hope they can be heroes during World War I unaware of what lies ahead. The film is a look into the ideas of war and the element of romanticism in being part of the military where two men cope with their decisions to join the service and be part of a campaign that ended up killing thousands of Australians. Starring Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, and Bill Kerr. Gallipoli is a mesmerizing and intense film from Peter Weir.
Set in 1915, the film revolves around two men who meet a running competition as they both enlist in the Australian army in the hope to become heroes in the war unaware of what is happening in the peninsula of Gallipoli in Turkey. It’s a film that explore the romantic ideas of war where two different men from different backgrounds bond through their love of running as well as the idea of heroism during World War I. David Williamson’s screenplay opens with the lives of these two different men in the 18-year old stockman/sprint-runner Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and the unemployed railroad worker Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) as they both would meet at a race as they befriend each other with similar ideas about joining the service. Though Archy is too young to join and Frank is inexperienced in riding horses to join the Light Horse cavalry infantry, the two would help each other as Frank would be joined by other railroad workers in the war.
They all have these motivations revealed in the second act set in Cairo that play into these romantic ideas of being a soldier where being a soldier means taking part in adventures, travel, and do so many different things. That portion of the film is brief as it relates to what Frank, Archy, and many others have to do once they arrive in Gallipoli as all of these romantic ideas is completely swept away. It’s not just the harsh reality of their environment they have to deal with but also the fact that Australians are treated with a sense of disdain since they’re considered second-class by the British Empire who rule over them.
Peter Weir’s direction is definitely entrancing for the vast locations he is able to go to in presenting this vast world of romanticism for much of the film’s first two acts. Shot largely on location in South Australia with the scenes in Cairo shot on the actual city, Weir creates a film that starts off in Southwest Australia where Archy is practicing to be a runner and make his family proud while Frank is just at a railyard with a few friends as they talk about joining the service which Frank is reluctant to do at first since he isn’t fond of the British Empire. Weir would use a lot of wide shots to capture the scope of the locations including the scenes in Cairo which is also shot in medium shots for the sequence at the shops and brothels. There are some close-ups to play into the growing friendship between Archy and Frank as well as this idea of gorgeous romanticism in the way the two would interact with upper-class society in Australia which is different from the way they’re treated by the British. There are elements of comedy during the second act in which Frank and his railroad worker friends mock the British cavalry as it showcases the tension between the British and Australians where the latter really work hard to combat the enemy.
The film’s third act that is set in Gallipoli is a complete removal of everything that Weir would do in the first two acts as it relates to the romanticism of being a soldier. Upon the arrival in Gallipoli, Archy and Frank believe it’s something that is adventurous where everything is fine until a skinny-dipping where a soldier is hit by stray artillery shells. It sets up these moments where reality slowly creeps in as the camera would suddenly shake whenever an artillery shell hits the ground to play into this reality. The film’s climax that involves the battle is definitely intense as it have these anti-war elements that play into a lot of the mistakes that happened as it also showed who was in charge and how their arrogance would play into the loss of innocence of these men trying to fight for survival. Overall, Weir crafts an evocative and eerie film about two young men whose idealism about war is shattered by its dark reality.
Cinematographer Russell Boyd does brilliant work with the film’s gorgeous and sunny photography for many of the exteriors set in the day as well as the usage of low-key natural lighting for some of the scenes in Cairo as well as some artificial lighting for the scenes at night. Editor William M. Anderson does excellent work with the editing in its usage of rhythmic cuts to play into some of the action and lively moments as well as the intensity of the battle during the film’s climax. Art director Herbert Pinter does fantastic work with the look of some of the places the characters go to in Australia and Cairo as well as the look of the tents and trenches in Gallipoli.
Costume designers Wendy Stites and Terry Ryan do nice work with the costumes as it play into the period of the times with some of the fancy dresses the women wore in Australia as well as the look of the uniforms the soldiers wore. Sound editor Greg Bell does amazing work with the sound in the way artillery cannons sound as well as the sound of gunfire to play into the intensity of battle and how powerful it can hit the ground to give it that sense of realism. The film’s music by Brian May is superb for its mixture of electronic synthesizers with some string flourishes to play into the drama while much of the soundtrack feature an array of pieces by Jean Michel Jarre in the running scene as well as Georges Bizet’s Pearl Fishers’ Duet for the film’s climax.
The casting by Allison Barrett is great as it feature some notable small roles from John Morris as the arrogant British colonel Robinson who orders the fatal attack in Gallipoli, Peter Ford as the Australian officer Lt. Grey who is aware of the flaw in Robinson’s plan, Ron Graham and Gerda Nicolson as Archy’s parents, Harold Hopkins as a bullying farmhand in Les that dislikes Archy, Diane Chamberlain as Major Barton’s wife, and Charles Yunupingu as Archy’s Aborigine friend Zac who helps out Archy’s family. The trio of Robert Grubb, Tim McKenzie, and David Argue in their respective roles as Bill, Barney, and Snowy are fantastic as Frank’s friends who also share Frank’s romantic idealism of war where they would be the first to encounter a reality that none of them expected. Bill Hunter is excellent as Major Barton as an Australian military leader who is determined to lead his troop to victory as he also knows that he is put into a dangerous position knowing that he and his troop would face death in the hands of the enemy.
Bill Kerr is brilliant as Archy’s Uncle Jack as a man who trains Archy to be a great racer but has worries about his nephew joining the service though he wishes him luck. Mark Lee is amazing as Archy Hamilton as an eighteen year-old runner that is eager to join the war hoping he would become a hero and endure a lot of the glories of war only to face reality that is just traumatizing. Finally, there’s Mel Gibson in an incredible performance as Frank Dunne as an unemployed railroad worker who joins the service for the romantic ideals of being a soldier where he is also a top runner that can go fast as he finds a friend in Archy where they both deal with the realities of war as it’s a role filled with charm and anguish as it’s one of Gibson’s early triumphs.
Gallipoli is a tremendous film from Peter Weir that features top-notch performances from Mel Gibson and Mark Lee. Along with its gorgeous cinematography, eerie music score, and intense action scenes, it’s a film that explores men’s reality with war as well as showcasing a moment in history that no Australian have to relive ever again. In the end, Gallipoli is a spectacular film from Peter Weir.
Peter Weir Films: (The Car That Ate Paris) – Picnic at Hanging Rock - (The Last Wave) – (The Year of Living Dangerously) – (Witness) – (Mosquito Coast) – Dead Poets Society - (Green Card) – (Fearless) – (The Truman Show) – Master and Commander: Far Side of the World - The Way Back
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