Full of unforgettable imagery and stirring adventure, Gallipoli is both one of the cinema's best anti-war tracts and a poignant meditation on the nature of friendship. Beneath the film's war-is-hell message lies the simple tale of a young man who yearns to break away from the isolated life he has known since birth. A golden-skinned athlete, he radiates promise and naivete, and he symbolizes the generation lost to World War I. But wisely, director Peter Weir refrains from exploiting such symbolism to its treacly maximum. Instead, he makes Mark Lee's Archy a foil for Mel Gibson's more ironic, world-weary Frank, using them to fashion a parable about the loss of innocence and the vindication of cynicism. Some of the film's most stunning aspects lie in its images. Weir's landscapes appear simultaneously stark and lush, with the blinding sands of the Australian outback underscoring both geographical and existential isolation; the chaotic, lively setting of the film's battles makes the specter of death even more surreal and terrible. Perhaps the film's most striking image is that of Australian soldiers swimming underwater during a daytime air attack; the sight of their nude bodies silently thrashing through reddening water is one of troubling beauty. Preferring to take a somber rather than accusatory standpoint on the battle of Gallipoli, the film nonetheless manages to be a profound indictment of the stupidity and misjudgment that defined the catastrophic battle. Taken with its compelling portrait of the friendship of its two leads, Gallipoli makes its subject a highly personal one, giving a human face to the statistical cost of human failings.
by Rebecca Flint Marx review