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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>
After first encountering "Breaker" Morant during a bout of insomnia in 1984 on cable, I have repeatedly come back to this film as one of my all-time classics--covering war, politics, tactics, transitions to manhood involved in all wars--and injustice.
Although set during the Boer War, the account of three officers tried for murder during a war in which the opponents were dressed as civilians has its obvious parallels to the 21st Century. It is absolutely amazing how similar a court marshal can be out on the "velt" of South Africa, in Washington, D.C., or during a purely uniformed war in which all protagonists are easily identifiable.
Three Australian volunteers for the "Bushvelt Carbineers", recruited to fight against civilian-clad commandos (reportedly the first use of the term), find themselves charged with murder, and set as an example by the British in order to prevent Germany from entering the war on the side of the Boer (Dutch) inhabitants of South Africa. In one incredulous encounter between a British officer and Lord Kitchener, the officer spouts the British line "they lack our altruism" (referring to German interests in the gold and silver mines of South Africa), to which Lord Kitchener grudgingly responds, "Quite." A sham trial from start to finish, the Australians are defended by military attorney with experience in "land conveyancing and wills" to which one of those charged, "the latter might come in handy." The film is replete with irony and tragicomic circumstances, as this "new war for a new century" presages many of the conflicts that would come later in the 20th century, and many of the clear paradoxes and trying aspects of the war against terror--again, in which one side is not uniformed, does not conduct war according to any known "rules" of "civilized warfare" (an oxymoron if ever there was one). It has lost none of its cutting edge in the 25-odd years since its release.
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