Cast: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr
SUMMARY: In 1915, Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) is an 18-year-old living in Western Australia, where he works as a cattleman. However, Archy’s real passion is sprinting. His uncle Jack (Bill Kerr) trains him, with both of them dreaming of Archy being as good as world champion Harry Lascelles. Meanwhile, another young man named Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) decides to enter the same race. A famed runner in Perth, Frank had a job working on the railroad, but quit, and is now broke. He hopes to win the prize money and increase his winnings by betting on himself. Archy wins the race and the prize money. He gives the money to Jack to take home, telling his uncle that he is going to enlist (Australia is fighting in WWI). Archy tries to get into the Light Horse, but is too young. He runs into Frank again at a restaurant, and the older man convinces him to travel to Perth and try again. During the trip, Frank decides to enlist as well. He forges a birth certificate for Archy, and Archy tries to teach him to ride a horse (a requirement for the Light Horse). This time, Archy makes it into the Light Horse successfully, but Frank fails the test. Instead, he joins the infantry with three old railroad friends, Bill, Barney and Snowy. Both men, now separated and unaware of the other’s location, are sent to Cairo for training and run into each other again. Archy tells Frank that being able to ride a horse is no longer essential to being in the Light Horse division, so Frank transfers. The division is eventually sent to Anzac Cove, where a perpetual battle rages around them. Frank’s old infantry division is also sent there, and Frank is finally able to introduce his friends to each other. Very quickly, the infantry is sent into action in the Battle of Lone Tree. The Light Horse is not included in the battle, so Frank is forced to wait idly for the end of the battle to learn his friends’ fate. Billy comes back, though he is clearly traumatized by what happened. Barney was killed outright, and Snowy was injured so gravely that the doctors refuse to waste food or water on him.
This event finally breaks Frank’s spirit, and his carefree attitude about the war vanishes. He and Archy soon learn that they are to join the fight, attacking the Nek region as a diversion so that British troops can land at Suvla Bay. When their commander learns of Achy’s real identity and reputation, he offers him the role of message runner for the battle. Archy turns him down, and advises the man to use Frank for the role. Frank accept. The battle plan is for the Light Horse to attack in three waves, crossing no man’s land to get into the trenches occupied by the Turks. An artillery bombardment is supposed to soften things up, but due to a miscommunication this bombardment ends early. This gap between bombardment and attack allows the Turkish defenders to reestablish themselves in their trenches and wait for the Australians to come at them. Despite the knowledge of the miscue, the commander orders the attack to proceed. The first wave departs and is cut down almost before they can get out of their trenches. The second wave suffers the same fate. Frank begins running messages back and forth, as the officers in the trenches request a halt to the attack, and the officers away from the battle try to decide whether or not to continue. As Frank returns to the trenches the last time — with a message that the general is reconsidering the attack — the phone lines are restored, and the colonel in charge orders the third wave to attack. With no choice, Barton prepares to join the last wave of the Light Horse, which includes Archy. Frank sprints back to the trenches, desperate to get there before the last wave attacks. He fails, hearing the charge just before he reaches the trench. Archy makes it out of the trench; he drops his gun and runs as fast as he can toward the enemy trenches. He is shot several times in the chest before he can get there.
MY TAKE: The first time I saw this movie I was really disappointed, because I thought it was a war movie. Instead, the actual war only appears in the last third or so of the movie, so it’s definitely not a combat movie like Saving Private Ryan or Glory. I would actually compare it to The Deer Hunter in a sense, because it focuses more on the characters’ lives before the war, and how it affects them. When I watched it this time, I didn’t have any false illusions, and I actually enjoyed it. I don’t have a really good grasp on the history part of it, because I don’t know a lot about WWI. I do know that Gallipoli is considered to be one of (if not the) biggest tragedy/disaster in the history of the Australian military, because they were absolutely slaughtered there. Wikipedia says that the 3rd Light Horse Brigade suffered 40% casualties, while inflicting almost no damage to the Turks. It also says that the movie got one thing wrong: the attack wasn’t really a diversion for Suvla Bay. Either way, it was disastrous, and sad to see so many young men killed without a chance. It makes you realize just how much the world loses when people are killed in wars: Archy might have been a world champion runner, but instead died while running across a battlefield.
RATING: Not terrific, not horrible.