Within the context of WWI, the film centres around the mateship between two young national-class sprinters from Western Australia, Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), who first meet as rivals in athletic competitions, but soon decide to enlist together, and eventually become part of the same Light Horse unit. The film consistently portrays Australia, in part through its emblematic protagonists, as young, affable and charmingly naïve, in contrast to the callously self-serving British.
This sort of dichotomy, necessary to foster nationalistic sentiment, provides a telling contrast to the complex ambiguities of Weir’s previous work. Here he is developing a more linear, direct style of storytelling, with fewer obviously stylised effects, while still conjuring richly atmospheric moments to portray the subjective confusion of traumatic events.
When a group of soldiers swims in the ocean before the main combat has started, bullets rain into the water, wounding one of them. The graceful, slight slow-motion, underwater sequence of calm movement, abruptly pierced by bullets, and the subsequent bloodflow staining the liquid image, is reminiscent of a surrealistic underwater shot fromWave of David sitting dazed in his submerged car, as corpses float around him. In Gallipoli, against a backdrop of dusty realism, the eerie beauty of this underwater sequence captures the surreal aspect of sending boys halfway around the world to be pawns in a military manoeuvre.
– Romy Sutherland om Peter Weir i Senses of Cinema, 2005.