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Before Dawn (Film Review)

3 min read

World War I has had a long and varied relationship in film history. This has been seen more recently in the spectacular one shot 1917 (2019) and the award winning All Quiet on the Western Front (2022). However, it is not often that the Australian perspective of WWI is retold on the big screen. Perhaps the most famous and well received is that of Gallipoli (1981) starring Mel Gibson or The Water Diviner (2014) featuring Russell Crowe. Before Dawn, aims to follow in the footsteps of these great Australian retellings.

The film follows the young life of Jim Collins (Levi Miller) who lives on a ranch in Australia with his parents. His friends decide to join up after the call for conscription but Jim remains undecided. The pull of comradeship with his friends and the push from his parents, who need him to help out on the farm, mean its a weighty decision he has to make. The folly of youth, for better or for worse, leads him down the path of war with his friends, much to the disappointment and heartache of his father.

In Before Dawn, the much told suffering of the troops on the frontline is familiarly retold. The endless trenches of mud and constant walking in deep waterlogged surroundings are a constant throughout. The B-movie quality of Before Dawn, gives the shots a lifelike depth. The amateur style of some shots gives the audience the impression that they are right amongst the action.

The film is a homegrown production shot in Australia, and at times the limited budget has a detrimental effect on the resonance of the storytelling. Big budget productions of WWI films like 1917, give the viewer a sense of depth and impression of a wider conflict beyond the camera lens. In Before Dawn, it very much feels that the war is localised to this one spot, and there is little proportion to the scale of the conflict.

There are some standout performances, in particular Myles Pollard who plays Sgt Beaufort. A strong commanding presence on screen, providing a fatherly role model to the troops. Levi Miller, playing the lead Jim Collins also bring emotional impact to the role, showcasing a wide repertoire of emotions.

The narrative could be a lot clearer. It is based on a true story but the heroics of the original Australian soldiers is not told in depth, which doesn’t allow the audience to understand the events. It works best when we see the conflicts in relationships, the pressures of war playing out. This particularly can be seen between Jim Collins and his fellow comrades who blame Jim for not staying with his shot friend in no mans land, as bombs exploded all around.

Overall, Before Dawn, is not ground-breaking, or reveal anything that hasn’t already been told. However, it is an enjoyable watch. With a tidy up on the script and a clearer, more concise narrative it could be a better film. Although it is interesting to see a WWI film from the side of the Australians, whose contribution to the war is too often overshadowed by the Americans and the British.

Before Dawn is released In UK cinemas from 21st June
Own it on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from 2nd September