Gallipoli (1981) (PG)

I just can't get over Peter Weir...and I can't believe that it's taken me this long to discover this director. He jumps from one genre to the next without so much as a hiccup in his career and each and every work seems to improve upon his last one. For the Australian cinema, it was "Picnic at Hanging Rock" that made Peter Weir a star; but it wasn't until he directed the war saga "Gallipoli" that he truly became well-known in Hollywood and would go on to make some of the most memorable movies of  each continuing decade like "Dead Poets Society" and "The Truman Show".
"Gallipoli" starts in the vacant plains of Australia where Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) is a runner. He is coached by his uncle and he's gotten his 100 yard sprint time down to under ten seconds. It's 1915.
The war with Germany rears its ugly head and even though he's only eighteen, Archy wants to sign up to fight. His parents and uncle don't see his point of view, so he plans on running away.
The first scene in the movie reestablishes why Peter Weir is a genius and an enormous risk taker. Archy works on a farm and one of the more annoying men there challenges him to a race back to the house—him on horseback and Archy on foot. Archy agrees and then runs barefoot back to the house, bloodying his feet three days before an important race.
Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) is also hearing of the war, though he has no interest in fighting. He sees the war as a fight between England and Germany, he has no interest in getting involved since it's not his war, or even his country's war.
Frank is a runner too, a sprinter who decides to enter the same race that Archy has been training for. He enters on the day of the race and places a large bet that he will win, imagine his surprise when the cheerful and skinny Archy wins the race. Now out of money he mopes around town, trying to think how to get back to Perth.
Archy tells his uncle that he won't be returning home and goes to join the army, but is stopped by the same annoying man on the farm. Now Frank isn't the only one who's moping. Archy lingers around town, deciding what he should do and Frank becomes friends with him. He suggests that they travel back to Perth and try to enlist there...Frank is still adamant about not joining; yet every time that Archy brings up enlisting, he seems to be considering the possibility with more severity.
Hopping on a train that takes them to the middle of the desert, Archy shows his determination to joining the army by walking fifty miles across the desert in "Lawrence of Arabia" fashion. Frank comes along just for companionship, and the two stumble into a wandering man who helps them out. They both explain the war to the man, who shares Frank's view.
"Gallipoli" is terribly clever with how it presents the war and the men. It's not a movie about a historical event—though the events in the movie did happen—but it is a film about two men and war itself. The film seems to be saying that war is a pointless act; yet half of its main actor duo thinks that war is a heroic act. Frank and Archy are incredibly human people and they each make mistakes and triumph in certain circumstances.
They become close friends but have to split up just before Archy enlists. For being a movie about war, there is nor much war in the movie. Weir makes conscientious efforts to not show the fighting scenes. There is one moment in particular that reflects this, as the shot is serenely on the observers of the war the noises fill the audience's ears.
Perhaps one of the most digestible of Weir's films, "Gallipoli" proves that great war movies don't have to have a lot of violence. The plot meanders slightly, but I never lost interest. War is just the backdrop. Frank and Archy are in the spotlight the entire time.
Still, there are moments that the oddity of the director pop back up, most notably with the electronica inspired score.
This movie was released the same time that "Chariots of Fire" was and dwarfs the Best Picture Winner in comparison. It's a masterpiece, a fully-realized work of pain and art and I consider it to be one of the quintessential war movies.
Russell Boyd's camera work is as stunning as ever...the movie is just hypnotic.
"Gallipoli" will remain with us for a long tiem.

Score: ★★★★

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