Gallipoli Movie Review

Few Americans -- or anyone else, for that matter -- know the story of the ANZAC invasion of Gallipoli during World War I. Why should they? Despite massive casualties, the battle for Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula had little effect on the outcome of the war. But for the countries of Australia and New Zealand, whose young men composed the ANZAC forces, the battle at Gallipoli is a fixed point of national pride.

As such, Gallipoli forms the perfect backdrop for an Australian film about the terrors of war and the endurance of bravery and self-sacrifice. Add to the mix two of Australia's greatest cinematic talents, Mel Gibson and director Peter Weir, and Gallipoli would seem halfway to greatness before it even gets started. Unfortunately halfway to greatness is mediocrity -- and that's as far as Gallipoli gets.

The film's rambling first hour,a set in Australia, is devoted to the story of two young men, Archy (Mark Lee) and Frank (Mel Gibson). While both men are gifted sprinters, they share little else in common. Archy is a simple portrait of idealistic innocence -- an affable, hard-working chap who's always eager to do the right thing. He's inspired by news reports and public sentiment to join the fight against Germany. Frank, meanwhile, is more cynical, more selfish, and less patriotic. He gambles away what little money he has and concerns himself with money-making schemes. And he knows better than to volunteer to place himself in harm's way, no matter how righteous the cause may be.

The pair meets for the first time at a regional track meet where they are to race each other. Archy wins both the race and Frank's respect, so when Archy is denied entry into the army on account of his youth, Frank suggests they hop a train to Perth where the authorities won't know how young Archy really is. The problem is, they hop the wrong train and end up stranded in the outback. As they venture back to civilization, Frank is ultimately convinced that enlisting in the army is the right thing to do, and he agrees to join Archy in the service.

Both Lee and Gibson are credible in their respective roles, but neither looks destined to become the Hollywood legend that Gibson would become. They're both solidly professional -- no more, no less.

The same goes for Weir, who in the years since Gallipoli has received four Academy Award nominations for Best Director. Instead, Weir directs Gallipoli with a shiftless lack of urgency. His film lazily meanders from one incident to the next, from race to train to outback, with only the most meager force of narrative momentum. The Great War looms in the background, as the characters populating the film often express their attitudes to it, but Weir goes so far in humanizing Archy and Frank before they head off to the dehumanizing crucible of combat that he commits the greatest sin of all... he's boring.

The film picks up, fractionally, as the action jumps to Cairo, where the Australian troops are being trained for their mission in Turkey. Here Weir captures the alien splendor of Egypt -- the cramped spaces of Cairo, the pyramids, the undulating desert swales -- but throughout the entire sequence it feels like Weir is just killing time before the big battle, much the same as the soldiers in his film.

The final battle is the indeed film's most harrowing passage. Turkish soldiers are dug into trenches that run the length of the coastline, while the ANZAC forces try to push through enemy lines. The result is a grisly bloodbath that strikes at the ugliness and arbitrariness of violence on such an enormous scale. It seems that this has been the film's final destination all along -- the horrors of war -- and it all happens so suddenly, so clearly, that it makes you wonder how it could have possibly taken so long to get there.


Comments

Gallipoli Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG, 1981

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