Australian filmmaker Peter Weir re-created the tragic and notorious World War I debacle of Gallipoli – a blundered campaign that saw the massacre of the Australian Tenth Light Horse Regiment at the Battle of the Nek in 1915 – with atmosphere and harrowing action, producing one of the classic films on war’s folly and waste.
Sporting rivals and pals, two fleet-footed young Australian runners – Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) a rough and charming Irish-Australian ex-railroad worker and Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) a middle-class rancher’s son and sensitive idealist – enlist into the Great War in Perth and journey across the world for the British Empire, finding comradeship, courage, and horror in the trenches of the Dardanelles.
Weir distinguishes himself by creating a strong sense of time, place, culture clash and intimate human drama while imbuing even simple acts with beauty and mystery, finding magical images that evoke excitement, high spirits, fear, and grief.
Like much of Weir’s work, Gallipoli (filmed in South Australia) radiates intelligence, humanity, and warmth through many such small moments.
Gibson, of course, is the one who went on to international superstardom, with Gallipoli persuading Hollywood that Mad Max was not just a tough guy but one who looked like a romantic leading man.
But the film’s haunting last image is a freeze-frame of Lee – Weir’s homage to a famous photograph taken by Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War.
“What are your legs? Springs, steel springs. What are they going to do? They’re going to hold me down the track. How fast can you run? As fast as a leopard. How fast are you going to run? As fast as a leopard. Then let’s see you do it!”