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>
This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #773. See more »
In the film the defendants are allowed to gather in a common room until lights out to socialize and meet with their lawyer and other visitors. In reality there were six defendants in total, including Captain Taylor, who were held in strict solitary confinement from their arrest through sentencing and were not allowed to communicate with each other at all. See more »
[Thomas is visiting Morant on the morning of his execution]
Cheer up. You look as if you were going to a funeral.
It's all right, Major. I've had a good run. There's nothing for me in England anymore. And back in Australia, well they say if you need a couple of stiff drinks before you climb up on a wild horse, you're finished.
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"Breaker Morant" is set during the Boer War--a particularly ugly war fought in South Africa around the turn of the 20th century. Both the Boers (Dutch South African farmers) and the British committed a lot of nasty atrocities and many of the standards conduct during warfare were violated in the course of this war. Concentration camps, a scorched earth policy and the like were used to subdue the Boers.
In this film, three Commonwealth soldiers from Australia are up on charges for war crimes--they are charged with executing prisoners and the like. While the defendants do not deny doing this, the problem is that this was common practice and those in command heartily approved--at least until word of the atrocities leaked. Now, to maintain the facade of civility, the three soldiers are being prosecuted--scapegoats despite doing exactly what they were expected to do. This is based, on part, on a real case--though how closely they stick to the original is uncertain.
While most of the film takes place during the court martials, through flashbacks you see many of the events that led up to the trials. Some of the behavior of the men seemed incredibly savage (such as shooting prisoners who had surrendered on their own) and much of their actions seemed to make sense in light of the guerrilla warfare being committed against them. Regardless, what is clear is that the court really seems to want nothing more than to make examples of these men.
Not surprisingly, "Breaker Morant" struck a chord with many who fought in Vietnam and recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like the Boer War, soldiers had no idea who was and was not the enemy and vague or politically motivated rules of engagement made fighting very difficult. The parallels are many--making this story rather timeless. This, the excellent writing and acting make for a very good film--one well worth seeing--even if it is a bit stagy (belying its roots as a play).
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