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A young man sets out with rifle to shoot kangaroos on a farm in Australia. Having shot a mother, he has also to kill the new-born that had not yet left the mother's pouch. After an afternoon's mindless amusement, he leaves.
During the Boer War, three Australian lieutenants are on trial for shooting Boer prisoners. Though they acted under orders, they are being used as scapegoats by the General Staff, who hopes to distance themselves from the irregular practices of the war. The trial does not progress as smoothly as expected by the General Staff, as the defence puts up a strong fight in the courtroom. Written by
Kasper Sevaj <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Producer Robert Bruning left the production in February 1979 due to creative differences. His component was bought out by the South Australian Film Corporation. See more »
In the closeup of a soldier's finger pulling the trigger of his Enfield rifle during Lt Morant's explanation of "Rule 303" to the court, the rifle stays absolutely still when the shot goes off. In actuality, a high-powered rifle like the .303-caliber Enfield would "jump" noticeably at the instant of firing. See more »
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The question raised in this film is the same as that raised in the Nuremberg trials following World War II and at the trial of Lt. William Calley during the Vietnam War, namely should a soldier be punished for following orders?
The answer to that question depends not only on what the orders were--that is, were they legitimate orders consistent with the "rules of war"--but also on who is asking the question and why they are asking it. After WWII the Allies asked the question and the reason they asked it was because so many people were horrified by Nazi atrocities and wanted someone to punish. If the Axis powers had somehow won the war they might have tried US President Harry S Truman and others for the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities, or indeed for the fire bombings of Dresden. In Vietnam we asked the question of ourselves during the war because our government and military were being accused both at home and abroad of waging a unjustified war and going against our own value system.
Here the story goes back to the Boer War a hundred years ago in South Africa, as the British command for political reasons puts Lt. Breaker Morant, an Australian soldier fighting with the British forces, and two of his fellow Bushveldt Carbineers on trial for shooting Boer prisoners. Their defense is the same as the Nazi soldiers and that of Lt. Calley: they were just following orders.
The superb direction by Bruce Beresford (from the play by Kenneth Ross) makes us identify with Morant (Edward Woodward), Lt. Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown) and the third soldier because we can see that the horrors of war pervert the usual logic of right and wrong so completely that we can appreciate what drove them to do what they did. Jack Thompson, playing defense attorney Major J. F. Thomas, expresses this when he tells the court that war changes us and that therefore the usual rules of conduct no longer apply. Incidentally this film is based on actual events.
Regardless of which side of this very vexing question you come down on, I can promise you will enjoy this outstanding film, winner of 10 Australian Film Institute Awards. In the annuals of war films and courtroom dramas this ranks with the best of them.
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