For over an hour, Gallipoli doesn't much resemble an anti-war film. We watch Archy (Mark Lee) and Frank (Mel Gibson), two Australian runners, compete in a race and soon after become friends. Although separated when they enlist, they eventually meet up in Cairo, before heading into battle on the shores of Turkey during World War One. Some of the scenes are light-hearted, even seemingly inconsequential, but what director Peter Weir is doing is giving us time to get to know his characters, to make us care about them before dropping them into a real battle that's remembered today as a disaster.
Despite their friendship, Archy Hamilton and Frank Dunne are fundamentally different. Archy is good-natured and naive. He's anxious to join the war, despite not knowing how it started. Even after arriving in the trenches at Gallipoli, he continues to have romantic notions about the war, referring to it as an "adventure". Frank, on the other hand, is a bit of a scoundrel (though a harmless one, as even his attempt to duck out of paying his hotel bill fails). While Archy openly admires real-life runner LaSalle, Frank treats the race meets as just a chance to illegally gamble by placing bets on himself. Of the five young men we get to know in the film, he is the only one not interested in joining the army. He eventually does, but only because of social pressure; when a family salutes Archy's eagerness to join, the usually cocky Frank is privately humbled.
Frank's initial refusal to contribute to the war may come across as self-serving, yet the film champions his view. The war is dismissed as "England's war", a point that's emphasized when it's revealed that the Australians are to create a mere diversion at Gallipoli in order to allow British soldiers to land elsewhere. In effect, Archy is doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, while Frank does the right thing for the wrong reasons.