This war movie is based on actual ANZAC diaries – so why doesn’t it ring true?


Before Dawn ★½
(M) 99 minutes

Up to a point, authenticity is in the eye of the beholder – certainly when it comes to dramatised depictions of events from more than a century ago. The script of Before Dawn is said to be based on actual diaries kept by Anzacs, and it could be that the film’s straightforward, even naive approach conveys something truthful about how it felt in those days to be a young man going off to war.

Before Dawn is said to be based on actual diaries kept by ANZACs.

Before Dawn is said to be based on actual diaries kept by ANZACs.Credit: Via Umbrella Entertainment

All the same, for much of this technically ambitious independent production – the first solo feature from Western Australian director Jordon Prince-Wright – I had trouble suspending disbelief.

To start with, for all the effort that has gone into digging trenches and sourcing uniforms, I was never entirely persuaded that the heroes were fighting on the Western Front. While the action spans several years, the topography is suspiciously unvaried. Nor do the trees on the horizon appear especially European, though I admit that from a distance it’s hard to be sure.

I had difficulty too investing in the emotional journey of the hero Jim Collins, played by former child star Levi Miller, who came to fame playing Peter Pan.

An idealistic lad from a Western Australian sheep station, Jim is determined to do his bit for the war effort, signing up against the will of his frowning dad (Ben Mortley). Before leaving, he promises he’ll be back home within six months: what follows tracks his gradual loss of illusions, or so we’re meant to think.

The dialogue scenes in general have a stiffness that suggests no one’s imagination is operating beyond the surface level.

The dialogue scenes in general have a stiffness that suggests no one’s imagination is operating beyond the surface level.Credit: Umbrella Entertainment

The problem isn’t that Miller gives an inexpressive performance. On the contrary, he does a lot of hoarse over-emoting, with Jim typically blaming himself whenever one of his comrades bites the dust.

Still, however much mud is smeared on his choirboy face, he retains the same innocent quality from first to last – and the dialogue scenes, in general, have a stiffness that suggests no one’s imagination is operating beyond the surface level, despite the voiceover ruminations in the manner of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.



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