Gallipoli is arguably the feature that catapulted both Mel Gibson and Peter Weir onto the international stage. Though both the actor and the director had found success in the years prior – Weir with The Cars That Ate Paris, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave and Gibson with Mad Max – their first collaboration would prove to bring out the best in both of them. Gallipoli spawned plenty of war films and series that would attempt to ride that wave of popularity, but to this day it still remains one of the greatest WWI films out there.
Gibson stars alongside Mark Lee, the latter of whom actually has the larger role despite Gibson’s mug being the only one plastered across the U.S. marketing materials. Lee is Archy Hamilton, hopeful young sprinter from Western Australia who continually hears of the efforts of the Australian Imperial Force on the peninsula of Gallipoli. He first crosses paths with Gibson’s Frank Dunne during a footrace, after which both men travel together to Perth in order to enlist. Their journey is long and full of joy and laughter, but it eventually takes them to the front lines at Gallipoli. Here they confront the reality of war, attempting to hold onto whatever remnants of home they can in the face of such horror.
To be sure, there are no shortage of “loss of innocence” war films. You could even argue that all war films address this in one way or another, even if it’s tangentially through a supporting character or two as in the likes of The Hurt Locker. Not only does Gallipoli get credit for being a precursor to some of the best WWI films of our era, but it’s also worth paying attention to the structuring of the film as a kind of growing, building framework on which we can hang this theme as the credits roll. First off, the focus is very much on Archy and Frank for the entirety of the movie – we only see the battlefield when they see the battlefield, and any notions we have of the war are stemmed from the opinions of the people they meet and the newspapers they read. In this sense, the war is almost a backdrop for a tale about two friends, and Gibson himself expressed as much in an interview (according to the almighty Wikipedia [so it’s gotta be true!]).