Attack Force Z
directed by Tim Burstall
starring Mel Gibson, Sam Neill, John Phillip Law
War may be hell, but the movie industry loves it. This 1981 Australian action film helped put Mel Gibson on the map as a solid actor from down under. He had already made Mad Max and was now working constantly. In addition to this pot-boiling war movie he had time for Gallipoli and Road Warrior. Today he’s a commando in the Australian Special Forces. He and four buddies are sent behind enemy lines to recover survivors of a plane crash. One is a top Japanese official defecting with some ill-defined information to end the war. A submarine surfaces, and 5 commandos move in stealthily on kayaks. Stakes are established quickly; one them is injured and quickly shot to avoid spilling the mission. The remaining guys hook up with some locals, and almost complete the mission. It’s a downer ending without any irony or antiwar message.
There’s plenty of tension and a wobbly romance between a commando and a local woman threatens the mission. But mostly we see tension as the team slips by oblivious Japanese soldiers. Our commandos use a dragon festival to almost escape but an alert Japanese’s officer notices a western pair of boots and then the real battle begins. Frankly, if all Japanese soldiers had been as lousy with a gun as these guys were, the war would have lasted about a week. Even with some help from local resistance farmers, the Japanese lost about 20 men per good guy shot.
So, is this worth watching? According to my favorite movie site, its scores a solid five and change landing it squarely below “must see because its good” and well above a “so bad its good” campy contender. The action sequences are well shot, Gibson and team are certainly exciting soldier actors, and the mission plausible (and based on a real story). Downsides are the weak and unconvincing romance, the ineptness of the Japanese actor-troops, and the downer ending. Specific features are limited, and while this is a competent action adventure shoot em up, its not outstanding. In an era that gave us Das Boot, Sophie’s Choice and The Last Metro it’s not that compelling a story, but it does have nearly a half hour of extras and supporting actors grabbing blood packs, screaming, and falling over. And I’m not saying anything is wrong with watching that.