I’m generally a fan of Peter Weir. When he’s on top of his game, he makes some incredible films. I don’t know if I would say that Gallipoli is Weir at the top of his game, but to say that at this point he doesn’t know what he’s doing is to be woefully incorrect. Gallipoli is basically what you would get if you put Chariots of Fire in a war-time environment, almost literally. Funny since the two films were released in the same year, and the fact that they are back-to-back on a single page in the Book would seem to be almost deliberate. A cursory search on Wikipedia tells me Chariots was technically released first, but hey; Hollywood seems to be prone to releasing pairs of identical films within a year of each other, so why fault the world cinema for basically accidentally letting it happen?
Don’t be confused, though; this may have similar themes, but this is ultimately a different film from Chariots of Fire. The similarities lie in the plot; two short-distance runners, Archy and Frank, meet at a competition and become inexplicable friends (or mates, since this is Australia). The two men then enlist in Australia’s contingent in World War I, this despite Archy not being of age. The rest of the film then deals with their separation, and eventual reunion, and how their bonds of friendship are tested on the field of battle, in particular the titular conflict. When the film started, it was pretty much Chariots of Fire in Australia, which while not unwelcome did seem a tad redundant. Then the war aspects started, and I was struck by how cheerful a mood the film maintained, even during times where the characters are basically under fire. While there isn’t much of a jingoistic patriotism to this one as most American war films are privy to, there is still a great deal of unnatural heroism and glorification of war; Archy, in particular, looks at the war with stars in his eyes, and both men make a point to mention that they’ve joined up or the glory of it, and in Frank’s case, for the honor of the uniform. Now, of course, people’s views may differ on whether war is hell or heaven, but my view is squarely in the former, and to watch a film like this was, to be frank, a little disconcerting. Well, then I got to the ending, which I won’t spoil, but it basically completely reverses direction, and proves how pointless and heartbreaking war can be.
This was an easy watch for me, though I’m not too sure the reason why. Not to say that this should’ve been a hard one to get through, or that I was expecting it to be, but when it was over, I found myself surprised that I hadn’t glanced at the clock once throughout the entire film. I don’t know if I would go the length of calling this a crowd-pleaser, especially with the ending, but this is still one I could easily recommend to a pretty wide group of moviegoers, which should speak for its accessibility. It’s not amazingly great, but it is very good, and it’s one you won’t regret spending a little less than two hours on. Coming from me, given the films I’ve watched as of late, that is pretty high praise right there.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10