Kokoda pays tribute to Australian soldiers caught on the hellish terrain of the infamous Kokoda track, fighting a faceless enemy whilst the untrained soldiers discover comradeship under the most malignant circumstances.
Set in New Guinea in 1942, a small platoon from the 39th battalion have been cut off from supply lines and communication. The soldiers begin to make their way back to their battalion through the perilous terrain, suffering the effects of malnutrition and disease whilst fending off unseen Japanese forces. The soldiers’ allegiances are tested as their strengths and weaknesses come together to strive in a time of gruelling condition.
Straight out of film school, director Alister Grierson manages to capture the harsh conditions of the Kokoda track superbly. Shot on location with hand held cameras in a rain forest in Queensland, no fine detail is left unturned. The filmmakers and cast had to themselves endure exhausting conditions whilst filming to make the Anzac day release deadline – the film was made in under two years from the word go.
The cast of relatively unknowns, including Jack Finsterer (who strikes an uncanny resemblance of a young Mel Gibson in Gallipoli), Travis McMahon and Simon Stone are excellent in their portrayal of the weather beaten ‘chocolate’ soldiers as they were come to known. The actors were taken to an army boot camp for training before filming where they developed a bond that would be portrayed on screen. They also had a chance to meet some of the original members of the 39th battalion in their research to truly capture and reimburse the emotion and feeling that these soldiers went through on the track.
As a war film, Kokoda captures the brutality and suffering of the soldiers excellently. The battle scenes are action packed and quite graphic of nature, as the soldiers face their fears in the well hidden enemy, the gruelling setting and their own mindsets. Kokoda not only covers the physical factors of war time, but the psychological factors that plague its cast of characters, as they go on for days without food or water.
Kokoda is superbly shot and well written. The film emphasises the conditions of the track as much as the soldiers who are on it, without shying away from one of the main motives of the film – mateship. Kokoda, like Gallipoli, should go down as a landmark Australian feature war film, paying its respects to the soldiers who fought on the horrendous location with visual and emotive excitement.
William McInnes did this movie for free. His part only required him to be on set for a day. In his own words he says: “I suppose in a minor way, doing this part is like tipping my hat to my father’s generation. It’s only a day’s work and I decide to donate my fee to Legacy. So at least someone will get something out of it.”