Kokoda (2006) Movie Review

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I consider movies like the Australian World War II film “Kokoda” a gem. The treat of such a movie lies in the opportunity to experience the war, of which I am unendingly fascinated with, from a perspective I had never seen before. Having been weaned on Hollywood’s American-centric fare, it’s easy to forget that the war was, as the name implies, a world effort. In “Kokoda”, we follow a small band of irregular Australian solders, nicknamed “chocos” (or “chocolate soldiers”) by the Australian regular army (AIF) for their less than stellar performances on the battlefield. The film marks the Japanese invasion of New Guinea in 1942, the closest Japanese forces ever came to invading Australia , before being repelled at Kokoda by the poorly regarded, poorly armed, poorly trained, undermanned, and mostly untested chocos.

Much of the film is told from the myopic POV of a small group of chocos as they guard “the track”, a stretch of dirt road that runs through Kokoda’s massive, insect and disease-ridden forestry. After an initial encounter with ghostly Japanese elite forces (one of them literally appears behind a choco and slices his throat), the group ends up wandering around Kokoda’s dense jungles, unsure of where they are going, or why. Meanwhile, the Japanese continue to attack the rest of the Australian forces, slaughtering their way through Aussie and the island’s indigenous population on their march to Australia . Outnumbered 10 to 1, the chocos didn’t have a chance in hell. Luckily for Australia , no one told them that.

Much of the film’s action comes from the harsh, natural climate of Kokoda itself, as it attempts to drown, swallow, and disease Australia ‘s protectors as well as its invaders, showing little regard for the human it is trying to snuff out of existence. At one point, one of the choco’s boots literally comes undone, forcing him to endure on foot for the rest of the way. The men are constantly besieged by diarrhea, resulting in a rather creative adjustment to one’s pants with the aid of a knife. Much of “Kokoda” is like that, focusing much of its running time on the battle between man and nature rather than man against man. While the chocos engage in skirmishes with the overrunning Japanese every now and then, it is Kokoda itself that is their greatest battle.

Curiously, while the native Aussies seem terribly unprepared for the climates of Kokoda, the Japanese seems shockingly unbothered by it. Surely, nothing in Japan could have prepared them for this, and yet the Japanese seem almost like natives compared to the muddy, bloody, and dysentery-plague Aussies. Of course much of this can be put on the filmmakers wishing to make the Japanese appear to be an invincible force, which would in turn make the Aussie’s victory at Kokoda all the more dramatic. Still, one can’t help but be mildly amused by the portrayals. It’s akin to Japanese tourist getting lost in Harlem , but instead of becoming disoriented, they instead easily adopt OG personalities and begin listening to gangsta rap.

Like most contemporary war films, war in “Kokoda” is, indeed, hell. Were the Japanese really this brutal? To answer that question, one only need ask the Chinese about Nanking during World War II. You haven’t seen what a real massacre looks like until you’ve seen the Japanese Imperial Army in action during the Second World War. These guys put the “mass” in “mass murder”, and the phrase “Geneva Convention protection” probably translated into Japanese as, ” Geneva is a nice city to visit if you get the chance.”

The script by director Alister Grierson and co-writer John Lonie uses a pair of brothers, Jack and Max (Jack Finsterer and Simon Stone, respectively) as our “in” on the story. The result is not entirely successful, as “Kokoda” is a 90-minute movie, and the film’s pace is much too hurried for deep characterization. By the time the chocos are in the thick of it, and racing through the jungle for survival against the advancing Japanese horde, it’s hard to keep track of who is who. Only after the ranks have thinned significantly does it become obvious that our lead is Jack, the older of the two brothers, and his steely determination to save his brother at all costs surfaces. Travis McMahon, as the battle-hardened Darko, also stands out, but I really couldn’t tell you who any of the other characters are. Maybe it’s all the mud and blood and jungle fatigues…

As war films go, “Kokoda” has problems. It’s not as action-packed as most contemporary war movies. If judged by the standards of, say, “Saving Private Ryan” — or perhaps, the more aesthetically similar “Thin Red Line” — “Kokoda” comes up short in the “stuff blows up real good” department. Stuff does blow up, but not all that well. Alister Grierson is a first-time feature film director, and it shows. The movie approaches its human side well enough, but the war moments are competent, but not excellent. Still, as the film isn’t about the battles, but rather the human will to survive put up against a great and unyielding test provided by the elements of Kokoda, this lacking surface element of the film can be forgiven.

Overall, “Kokoda” makes for interesting viewing. Kokoda was the closest the Australians ever really got to defending the homeland from invaders, and it was the first time the Japanese were pushed back in defeat in the war, so the battle itself is a major landmark in the war effort against the Axis Powers. Grierson has clearly made it clear that the human moments are his primary concern, and in that respect he succeeds in telling the story he wanted to tell. A more polished film director might have paid more attention to the details of the film’s battles, but then it might not have been the same movie.

Alister Grierson (director) / Alister Grierson, John Lonie (screenplay)
CAST: Jack Finsterer …. Jack Scholt
Travis McMahon …. Darko
Simon Stone …. Max Scholt
Luke Ford …. Burke
Tom Budge …. Johnno
Steve Le Marquand …. Sam
Ewen Leslie …. Wilstead
Christopher Baker …. Blue
Angus Sampson …. Dan


Buy Kokoda on DVD

Author: Nix

Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.
  • http://www.vbatutor.com/ Gary Radley

    History lesson:
    By the time the Japanese attacked PNG, the Japanese were very experienced at jungle warfare, learnt in first Malaysia then Indonesia, before advancing onto PNG. Before this of course, they had experience fighting in China.
    The Australian Infrantry Forces (regular enlisted army) were on their way back form Egypt, held up in Colombo, Ceylon, while Churchill tried to talk the Australian Prime Minister into sending them to Malaysia.
    The only soldiers “on hand” to send to PHG, were drafted CMF (Citizens military Forces) soldiers who were only allowed to fight on Australia Territory, basically a home guard, ‘dads army’ force.
    These soldiers were so poorly trained, that some had never fired a rifle before being sent to PNG. They were so poorly equiped, that their had to dye thier light brown uniforms a greenish color by boilinging them with green leaves to afford some camoflage effect.
    I hope this short history lesson helps.

    • Tim-bailey

      For others as well.

      The Australian IMPERIAL Force (2nd AIF) the second raised in the 20thC (see WWI) was a volunteer force – for overseas service. There were VERY few regular (full-time) life-career soldiers in Australia, just cares for the CMF and the Staff, until after WWII.

      The 2nd AIF had mostly served in the Middle East, they were veterans of desert warfare, and struggled as much as the CMF did with the Japanese and the jungle. Both had to try to die their kakhis green, many did not even have trousers. Few had quinine or atebrine or mosquito nets.

      The 39th Battalion were better trained than all the other Militia battalions, and more fortunate in the AIF officers and NCO’s they received. The 53rd Bn was not and fell apart.

      Both enlistments/parts of the Australian soldiers that fought on the Kokoda track had little air supply and no air-evac’n for the wounded a failure on MacArthur’s part which could easily have been different. As a result they had fewer medium MG’s and 3inch mortars than they should have and no artillery support.

      The Japanese ‘Special South Seas Landing Force’ (sic) had also trained in jungles in the Pacific.

      Churchill and Roosevelt tried to send the 6th and 7th Div’ns to BURMAH. Malaya had already gone.

      Some of the CMF soldiers were conscripts, quite a few had volunteered.

      The Kokoda/Buna/Gona campaign was NOT the first defeat of Japan’s attempts to take New Guinea/ Port Moresby. Milne Bay was their first defeat on land by AIF and CMF soldiers, and the RAAF assisted by US CB’s and the USAAF. The Coral Sea carrier battle was their first draw at sea – a strategic victory for the Allies.

      For the other critic, I found the story easy to follow, but scary and NOISY and FAST and confusing, just like REAL battle IS. Unlike almost all American war films. I had difficulty staying in the theatre.

      I’m an ex-digger and grunt, and a history reader.

  • http://www.vbatutor.com Gary Radley

    History lesson:
    By the time the Japanese attacked PNG, the Japanese were very experienced at jungle warfare, learnt in first Malaysia then Indonesia, before advancing onto PNG. Before this of course, they had experience fighting in China.
    The Australian Infrantry Forces (regular enlisted army) were on their way back form Egypt, held up in Colombo, Ceylon, while Churchill tried to talk the Australian Prime Minister into sending them to Malaysia.
    The only soldiers “on hand” to send to PHG, were drafted CMF (Citizens military Forces) soldiers who were only allowed to fight on Australia Territory, basically a home guard, ‘dads army’ force.
    These soldiers were so poorly trained, that some had never fired a rifle before being sent to PNG. They were so poorly equiped, that their had to dye thier light brown uniforms a greenish color by boilinging them with green leaves to afford some camoflage effect.
    I hope this short history lesson helps.

  • Caroline Idiart

    Gostei muito do filme,é um filme muito bom,como diz na capa”UM FILME MEMORÁVEL”e com belos atores!Gostei muito dos atores Jack Finsterer,Travis Mcmahon e Simon Stone…Éh eu tenho muitas fotos deles!O Jack E muito fofo!!!!!
    Jack…Adoro você!

  • Caroline Idiart

    Gostei muito do filme,é um filme muito bom,como diz na capa”UM FILME MEMORÁVEL”e com belos atores!Gostei muito dos atores Jack Finsterer,Travis Mcmahon e Simon Stone…Éh eu tenho muitas fotos deles!O Jack E muito fofo!!!!!
    Jack…Adoro você!

  • nick

    lalala my name name is nick

  • nick

    lalala my name name is nick

  • hi nick

    Well, considering it is an Aussie movie, I wasn’t expecting anything too flash. The effects, crap. The entire layout of the movie – chaos.

    The audience needs to be more exposed to the characters, not guessing which one is which. If we had the opportunity to become more attached, the ideas Grierson had would have been more effective. It’s just that for most of the movie, I could hardly see due to the camera moving too fast and I was at total loss as to who the next Aussie getting slaughtered was.

    But… keep in mind that it is an Aussie film, and try enjoy the real meaning of this amazing story – despite the crap film, I am still [roud to be Australian. Those men are an inspiration to all :)

    Oh, hi nick.

  • hi nick

    Well, considering it is an Aussie movie, I wasn’t expecting anything too flash. The effects, crap. The entire layout of the movie – chaos.

    The audience needs to be more exposed to the characters, not guessing which one is which. If we had the opportunity to become more attached, the ideas Grierson had would have been more effective. It’s just that for most of the movie, I could hardly see due to the camera moving too fast and I was at total loss as to who the next Aussie getting slaughtered was.

    But… keep in mind that it is an Aussie film, and try enjoy the real meaning of this amazing story – despite the crap film, I am still [roud to be Australian. Those men are an inspiration to all :)

    Oh, hi nick.