Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1981: Mel Gibson in Gallipoli

Mel Gibson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Frank Dunne in Gallipoli.

Gallipoli is a masterful film by Peter Weir about the journey of two men who make their way to the Gallipoli front during World War One. On a side note the Australians really can't get much of a break with the academy, since they are ignored even when they turn out masterpieces like this, Breaker Morant and The Proposition, and since the film are in English they can't even find the recognition that films from non-English speaking countries receive in the foreign language category.

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.

28 comments:

Michael Patison said...

What'd you think of Lee? I also like Hunter and Kerr here. What'd you think of them?

Anonymous said...

What did you think of him in Lethal Weapon?

Kevin said...

Hey Louis, why do you think Peter Weir never received the recognition that Spielberg or Scorsese received despite directing some truly great masterpieces like this film or Truman Show?

Anonymous said...

Surprising that Weirs most successful Oscar film was just a straight forward thriller (a really good one though which is Witness)

RatedRStar said...

I really like Gibson as an actor but its kind of hard to like him as an actor cause of what he has become nowadays (a similar problem with Joaquin Phoenix, as Gibson is a racist whereas Joaquin is just a unlikable jerk, if these 2 were likable I would actually support them and smile when they actually win awards.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael: Lee was very good as well. Kerr and Hunter both added to the film nicely.

Anonymous: Lethal Weapon is a film that I don't think I've watched straight. Oh I've seen the whole thing from different start and end points, but I just never watched it from very beginning to the very end in one sitting. Having said that though I recall Gibson being good, although even a standard Gibson performance I tend to rather enjoy.

Kevin: Honestly his films tend to be popular but just not quite popular enough. Even with the Oscars this seems to be true, Weir has even been nominated four times for directing but every time the academy seems to simply love a different film more. This was particularly true for Master and Commander which received a lot of love, but just as much as The Return of the King. Also it does not help Weir that he has not really being doing much of late.

RatedRStar: All I can say is Emil Jannings was a Nazi and Wallace Beery was pure evil. I like an Emil Jannings as actor because he was good actor, I don't like Beery as an actor because he was usually a bad ham.

Matt Mustin said...

That's one thing I love about your reviews Louis, you never once let your judgement of the actors' personal lives seep into your reviews.

Matt Mustin said...

Also, have you seen Edge of Darkness? Not a great film, but it's decent and Gibson is quite effective in it.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Winstone was better in Edge of Darkness.

Matt Mustin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Psifonian said...

Gibson really was robbed that year. Regardless of your personal feelings of the man (something that, as Louis said, you should put aside when judging their body of work), you can't deny the man has charisma and talent for miles.

His work in "Get the Gringo" is some of the best he's done since his heyday. If you haven't seen it, check it out.

RatedRStar said...

I accept that, to be fair I did mention that I would never be a film critic because of my biased nature.

Matt Mustin said...

One of my favourite South Park lines is "Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but the the son of a bitch knows story structure."

Anonymous said...

its a shame because your not exactly a bad film judge in terms of taste RatedRStar, since you get a fair amount of right predictions and seem knowledgeable enough.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'm usually able to put aside my biases towards actors concerning their real life personas. I will, however, comment that Gibson's recent episodes have made me view Braveheart and Passion of the Christ in COMPLETELY different lights. Let's just say the ego really shows itself more obviously.

Matt Mustin said...

koook: Well, Passion of the Christ very clearly shows a lot of his problems. I don't think Braveheart does so much.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I do. The fact that he cast himself as The Least Subtle Christ Parallel Ever (TM) is a major issue. The fact that it glosses over the fact that William Wallace is arguable just as barbaric as his enemies is another.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I still think it's a mess. Romanticized or not, it's clichéd to an absurd degree. Plus, I always have a problem when the movie has an unnatural obsessive admiration for its protagonist. I consider William Wallace as portrayed in the movie as a boring Mary Sue. Also, outside of Angus Macfayden and MAYBE Patrick McGoohan, the acting and characters left something to be desired.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt Mustin: Haven't seen it but being a Gibson fan I probably should.

koook160: Braveheart is very much a film in the style of the 40's or 50's in its portrayal of a historic figure. It is not meant to be a real account, but rather a very romanticized view of a folk hero. Also to be fair to Gibson he did not write the film, and apparently he only agreed to star to be able to direct it.

Psifonian said...

It always bothers me when people bitch about the "historical inaccuracy" of "Braveheart." It's supposed to be an ahistorical fantasia, a tall tale set to celluloid. Randall Wallace didn't write it to be a true-to-history biopic, nor did Gibson have any sort of desire to make it a statement against homosexuality (his treatment of the prince) or the English in general. It's just that with his current problems and how he's viewed in Hollywood, it retroactively taints his work because people are trying to find evidence of his biases. He didn't write the scene with Philip's defenestration. He didn't decide to make Edward II a prancing sissy. He wanted to show that Longshanks and his son were polar opposites, and what's the polar opposite from a tough, iron-willed brute? The fact that he was gay had very little to do with the character, in my opinion. He was desperate to win his father's approval. He just happened to be gay.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I did not mention historical accuracy once. Read what I said. I can care less about historical accuracy. If I did, I wouldn't like The Social Network, Judgment at Nuremburg, or Inglourious fucking Basterds. I do. I care about telling a good story and interesting characters. I didn't find much to write home about.

Psifonian said...

I never said you did. I wasn't talking about you. Relax.

Psifonian said...

Your comments about people viewing Gibson's films retroactively in "a whole new light," however, did spur me to write it, but I wasn't calling you out.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I see no issue with judging a film based on retroactive revelations. Hell, sometimes it adds to the experience. For example, Stephen Boyd was told to play Mesalla in Ben-Hur as a spurned lover instead of old friend turned evil by the screenwriter. Boyd was in the closet, and put more conviction into that role than any other in his career. It shows, too. Seriously, has any performance in that movie aged as well as that one?

Psifonian said...

Something like that is fine to judge, because we know from interviews and writings that was how Boyd was told to play it and it creates interesting subtext. But judging something like "Braveheart" on postulations about its director because of his personal troubles later in life is a bit more dodgy to me. If it works for you, there's nothing wrong with that. But I don't think Gibson had an ulterior motive or a Christ complex when he made it. That said, I do wonder if perhaps playing that character in the way he did it (as a messianic figure, because the script's Wallace is very much that, though I think that's more Randall Wallace's contribution than Gibson's) might have played heavily into his decision to make "The Passion of the Christ."

Matt Mustin said...

Look, regardless of the subject of the films, you can't deny that Braveheart and Passion of the Christ are incredibly well-made.

Psifonian said...

I would agree. Gibson is probably one of the best actor-turned-directors out there. He's got a bold mise-en-scene that speaks volumes and draws the audience in. Unlike, say, Ron Howard, his films never seem workmanlike and always sizzle with their own unique energy. It's a shame Gibson will likely never get the budget to shoot a huge-scale film again, because I'd hate for his creative vision to be silenced because of his personal issues.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Ron Howard may be the most milquetoast director alive. What's worse, he keeps collaborating with that talentless hack Akiva Goldsman.