Peter Weir has slowly carved himself a reputation as one of the most stylish and interesting directors working today. 'Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World', 'The Truman Show', 'Fearless', 'Dead Poets Society' - these are the works of someone with a lot of talent. 'Gallipoli' is one of his earlier efforts and features the directors central theme of man and how he adapts to an environment that makes him an outsider.Archy (Mark Lee) is a champion runner in the Australian outback, but wants to do more with his life. It's 1915 and the Australians are sending over their troops to the African province of Gallipoli to hold back the tide of the German-aligned Turkish army. Archy wants to join the cause and after meeting fellow runner Frank (Mel Gibson) at a competition they join up and are trained for what will go down in history as the Australian version of the Alamo.
Weir's recurring theme of man against the environment is never more clear than here, with some stunning visuals of both Australia and Gallipoli. Frequently, wide expanses of desert or outback swamp the screen, dwarfing Archy and Frank and emphasising just how much power nature has over man. Pyramids tower over them as they undergo their training and they slowly bake under he harsh Australian sun as they trek towards the joining post of Perth.
It's a film that is a constant delight to watch simply because of the sense of awe that Weir invests these shots with. The film is bright and sunny with a palpable sense of the dryness and the scorching heat. You can almost taste the dust at the back of the throat and it's very much inspired by 'Lawrence of Arabia' and Lean's sweeping vistas.
Arguably this shrinks the human interest however. Archy and Frank are very likeable characters, but there's little background as to why they want to join up, or indeed why Gallipoli is so important to the Australians. There's a throwaway line that if Gallipoli falls, Australia could be next, but its importance still remains frustratingly vague.
And with Weir luxuriating in the glorious look of his film, you could forgive him for losing track of his characters. Although Lee is a young and naive presence to empathise with and Gibson is solid if unspectacular, Weir fails to make the most out of them. Archy dissapears right out of the middle of the film and for all the focus of the training of the soldiers (complete with bonding and comic adventures), the nagging feeling remains that Weir is itching to get back to the desert. It's this lack of balance that means the final 15 minutes of the men going over the top lacks the emotional punch. There's only one battle scene, but it is worth getting to as it illustrates the pointlessness of war. But the lack of characterisation (or blood) means it's nowhere near as effective as the opening salvo of 'Saving Private Ryan' or even the final moments of 'Blackadder Goes Forth'.If it wasn't for these final scenes (and an absolutely brutal use of freeze frame), 'Gallipoli' would be nice-looking, two star travelogue. But it does make a point well as it ends on a sobering last image. It may have taken Weir a couple more pictures before he achieved the balance between characters and their setting, but 'Gallipoli' is still a flawed effort worth catching.