Mel Gibson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Frank Dunne in Gallipoli.
This my first time covering a performance by Mel Gibson as the academy has only ever recognized his work behind the camera despite Gibson being most famous for his onscreen. Gibson was in his prime in 1981 appearing in this film as well as in perhaps his most iconic role as Mad Max in The Road Warrior. Although Gibson's performance as the road warrior is a very solid performance his greatest challenge of the year was found in the role of Frank Dunne in Gallipoli. Frank Dunne early on is just a man going place to place with no real aspirations other than to make some money where he can and find an easier place to live than wherever he may be at his current point. Frank stands at the opposite end of our other lead character Archy (Mark Lee) who is a man with a passion.
Gibson is top form here as Frank, and the very best qualities of his style of acting are seen here. Gibson often takes a bit of a joker, and wise guy type attitude to his roles which works perfectly for Frank who is a rather the sarcastic sort. Gibson is terrific in making Frank the right type of worldly sort right from an early scene when a few of his friends are taking about joining the army. Where the other men buy into the idea of fighting for one's country Frank though does not. Gibson tears into the scene and establishing Frank cynicism flawlessly. Gibson is very much to the point which let's us see Frank as a guy whose always got some sort of plan to try to do things his way. Gibson has the right type of sly attitude in the role in his characterization of Frank.
The sarcastic attitude of Frank could have easily made him an unlikable character, but this does not happen with Gibson, who usually has plenty of charm as an actor, but Gibson is incredibly charismatic here as Frank. Why anyone would put up with him, or why Archy would be rather taken for him is not even a question because Gibson is extremely endearing here. Gibson let's us in on the fun that Frank has during the film. Frank is a cynical guy to be sure, but Gibson does not take this as a reason to be cold which would have been problematic in establishing the central friendship of the film. Gibson brings a nicely handled warmth with his performance, even when Frank is being sarcastic Gibson still is a welcoming presence that we can follow through his adventure.
This film is one of the two great films about two men who have a common bond in running. In both films it features to very different men who are also very fast, and in both it is the more amiable fellow who is slightly faster one. In Chariots of Fire the two men never became truly friends, but in this film the two men's friendship is central to the film. Mark Lee plays the faster man Archy who is a more straight forward younger man. Archy always seems to be looking for the best of things, and takes a very optimistic view when it comes to joining the war to fight for Australia. This is of course the opposite of Frank and Gibson's performance. The two form a very effective dynamic between the man who might know the world a little too well, and one who does not know enough.
Gibson and Lee are great together and create an honest friendship between the differing men. This is not a case of the two constantly expressing their brotherly type of love for another, rather Gibson and Lee create the friendship in a most realistic way. It is an underlying thing, the men don't have to talk about it rather there is just a certain ease among them as they interact. Gibson and Lee really find something special, something remarkable because they bring to life the connection so well yet keep such a subtle factor in the film. Gibson and Lee's approach to this only adds to the film as it slowly just becomes an established fact that the two guys really like each other's company which adds to much to the film, not only when they are having the good times together but even more importantly as the film moves toward its darker end.
Where Lee's performance is a straight line with some slight waves, there is a different story to Frank as Frank slowly moves to joining the army despite his rather obvious objections in his first scene. Mel Gibson is excellent in this character arc which he carefully plays through the course of the film. With Frank's interactions with Archy, we see Frank still keep up his pessimistic attitude despite Archy's insistence that joining the army is the right thing to do. Gibson is terrific as he still shows Frank sticking by his guns, and really as something he believes, but indicates in the right measure how Archy's words do slowly get to him. When Frank does change his mind it is wholly believable, especially though as Gibson shows Frank fooling himself into thinking that joining the army is just another scheme.
When Frank and Archy find themselves in the army Gibson still keeps Frank as a man on an adventure, an adventure that he really does make an enjoyable one. Gibson's performance treads lightly in just the right way and portrays the way that Frank is treating the army as just another opportunity for his type of advancement. One of Gibson's great moments comes when he gets to join the cavalry to get out of the infantry and join up with Archy again. Gibson is appropriately amusing when Frank comes to show his other buddies his new uniform. Gibson plays the scene brilliantly showing that Frank has a great pride in his new more stylish uniform. Gibson once again keeps Frank his good old self as it is not a pride in the army, but rather a pride in himself for once again getting advancement without really doing much.
The fun and games end when Archy and Frank finally arrive to the front at Gallipoli. It becomes clear that there is no adventure or glory to be found on this battlefield like Archy thought and there is no scheme to be played as Frank thought. Gibson is amazing in these scenes as Frank observes as he sees the true nature of the war. Gibson up to these scenes already gave a great leading performance just to follow through the lighter adventure of the film, but he goes onto another level when they meet the wall at the end of it. He is extremely powerful in his reactionary moments when he listens to other men tell their stories of loss. Gibson allows us to see any cynicism leave Frank as he forced to feel the blunt reality of the situation. He is incredibly moving as he reflects the horror in his eyes and expresses the growing fear for his own life.
Gibson is electrifying in his physical performance throughout but never is this more true when Frank avoids combat by acting as the running messenger for the commander. Gibson is outstanding in this sequence as he builds the intensity of the situation with his performance, as Frank gets more and more exasperated, and more and more affected by the rows of men being mowed down only a few inches past the trench. Gibson builds to the end of the film in his portrayal of Frank slowly getting beaten down and is emotionally overcome by the situation. Gibson is haunting as the once so sarcastic Frank cannot ignore what is going on around him and pleads to end the massacre. The final moments of the film are heartbreaking in a combination of Mark Lee performance which personifies a certain persistence, and Gibson's performance which leads Frank to a different end. Gibson final moments is but a scream which is short but unforgettable. In just a few seconds Gibson brings out the full extent of the anguish and pain of the unbearably tragic finale of this film.