Directed by: Alister Grierson
Written by:Alister Grierson, John Lonie
Starring: Jack Finsterer, Travis McMahon, Simon Stone, Luke Ford, Tom Budge, Steve LeMarquand, William McInnes, Shane Bourne
Released: April 20, 2006
Grade: A

The Australian military had fought in wars before but it wasn’t until 1942 that our own home soil faced its first serious attack.  Japanese soldiers landed in Papua New Guinea (which at the time was an Australian colony) and tried to take control.  Considered key by both the Australians and the Japanese was the inland village of Kokoda.  It was home to an airstrip and many other valuable supplies.  Over the course of the six month battle, control of Kokoda changed several times.

The Kokoda Trail linked the northern coast of Papua New Guinea (where the Japanese landed) with the southern coast (where the Australians landed).  It was on this rough, mountainous path where many of the battles took place.  In all, more than 600 Australians were killed.  Australia took control of Kokoda once and for all in November 1942 and the Japanese had fully retreated by January 1943.

It has been over 60 years since the end of World War II and there are many who have forgotten or aren’t familiar with the incredible job that was done by the Australian military.  It sounds like a cliché but we could be a very different country today had Australia not defended so resolutely.  This film serves as the perfect medium for bringing the story of the Kokoda soliders back into the spotlight.  Its release date, just five days before Anzac Day, is no coincidence.

The full Kokoda story is too long to bring to the screen and so the film focuses instead on a small group of soldiers in the 39th battalion who have become cut-off from their comrades.  Under continual attack from the Japanese, they try to negotiate the arduous terrain and make it back it base.  They have no food, no radios and no medication to treat their illnesses and injuries.  Not all will make it back alive.

Based on a true story, you’d be forgiven if you thought this was a huge war blockbuster with a multi-million dollar budget.  It reminded me very much of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (which cost over $50m).  Kokoda is a film of the highest quality and a great endorsement of the talent in the Australian film industry.  We know how to fight and we know how to make great movies!

Kokoda is the first full-length feature from young director Alister Grierson.  It’s a wonderful debut and making it even more astonishing is the fact that Grierson graduated from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School just two years ago.  You’ll be interested to know the film was not shot in Papua New Guinea but rather the Gold Coast Hinterland (due to costing restraints).  You can’t tell the difference.

In August last year, I correctly proclaimed Look Both Ways to be the film to beat at Australian Film Institute Awards.  Kokoda is the clear frontrunner for the prize in 2006 and its intense, confrontational look at the Kokoda battle will leave a lasting memory.