Beneath Hill 60

Year: 2010
Production Co: NSW Film and Television Office
Director: Jeremy Sims
Writer: David Roach
Cast: Brendan Cowell, Steve Le Marquand, Anthony Hayes, Leon Ford

Despite their almost constant presence on the cinema landscape war movies have gone through periods of fashion like any other. In the 60s and 70s films like The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare highlighted the adventure, the skills and the use of technology and tactics of a band of heroes as they defeat the sneering, faceless Nazis.

When war films came back into vogue towards the late 1990s with The Thin Red Line they looked much more like All Quiet on the Western Front, where the filmmaker was more interested in how the people on both sides who fought wars were just scared kids following orders rather than monsters, and how they fought, suffered and died in the most appalling conditions.

Beneath Hill 60 is notable for two reasons. First, it captures the moods of both the 'war is hell' and 'boys own adventure' schools of war films. Second, it's not a product of the Hollywood machine but an Australian film, with almost $10m behind it. Last Train to Freo director Sims shows a great deal of talent and control with such a huge budget considering we haven't seen anything of this scale from him before, and you can see every cent on the screen in the lashing rain, claustrophobic tunnels and mortar impacts.

It's the story of a civilian miner from Queensland, Woodward (Cowell, looking just a little uncomfortable with the leading man burden at times) who joins up and is sent to Belgium in the First World War to lead an expedition to tunnel under the German lines and plant explosives.

Flashback scenes of him back on the farm courting the daughter of a local family are a little clumsy, but it's during the tense underground scenes where Sims, Cowell and their support cast shine. Much better than you've seen from an Australian film in quite awhile.

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