Friday, October 8, 2010

Canon Movie Review: Breaker Morant

I was in the mood to watch a movie tonight, so I decided to watch Australia's Best Picture Award winner of 1980, Breaker Morant. Actually, Breaker Morant won 10 Australian Film Institute awards in 1980, and was nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. Breaker Morant is the story of a court-martial of three Australian volunteers for the British in the Boer War. The men were serving for a special forces group known as the Bushveldt Carbineers, a group created to counter to guerrilla tactics of the Boers with guerrilla tactics of their own. The three men, George Witton, Peter Handcock, and the titular character Harry "Breaker" Morant, are charged with the murder of both war prisoners and German missionary Rev. Hesse. The movie was based upon an Austrailian play of the same name and was directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy). Breaker Morant stars Edward Woodward (The Equalizer) as Morant, Bryan Brown (Cocktail, F/X) as Handcock, Lewis Fitz-Gerald as Witten, and Jack Thompson (The Good German, Attack of the Clones) as the man called on to defend the three, J.F. Thomas. A few notes about this film, and there will probably be SPOILERS.

- Breaker Morant may be a war movie, but most of the movie does not take place on the battlefield. Rather, the majority of the movie is set in a small room where the court-martial takes place. It is there where the majority of the drama takes place. Also, flashbacks are used the illustrate the actions of the three men on trial, as well as getting a deeper look at the soilders. For example, we see a scene of Handcock, a bit of a wild man who was having affairs with two women while in South Africa, explaining to his wife that he doesn't write letters, and that if you hear something from him, something bad has happened. This serves to give another dimension to Handcock's character.

- Ultimately, the film is seemingly trying to convince the viewer that Breaker Morant and his two fellow soilders were pawns sacrificed by the English government for what they felt was a greater good. In fact, the commander of the British Army, Lord Kitchner, admits as much in the film. This theme is played up throughout the movie, as men just as guilty as Morant and the other on trial, such as Capt. Alfred Taylor, is cleared of their charges in exchange for their testimony in this case. However, the film also does not make the British prosecutors out to be monsters. Rather, they are painted as a group of men who are basically sacrificing these three in order to appease the Boers for possible peace talks as well as preventing the Germans to get involved after one of their missionaries is murdered. The commanders of the British Army are mainly concerned with covering their own butts, so they basically sacrifice three Austrailians in exchange for a possible end to the war. so what's On the one hand, you can somewhat see their point, but on the other hand, it is not right to sacrifice the lives of three men in exchange for a hope of political gain and harmony.

- Morant and Handcock were guilty of their crimes. However, it is unclear whether or not they are being punished for following orders, as Morant and Thomas both repeatedly claim in their defense. According to Thomas, Morant and his men were ordered to a) shoot any Boer wearing a British soilder's uniform, and b) not to bring any prisoners to their base in South Africa, doing with them as they see fit. Although the film presents Morant as being accurate in this regard, it is also hard to prove because Morant's commanding officer, Capt. Hunt, was brutally murdered by the Boers during a skirmish, and that most of the men that knew of this order had conveniently been sent to India just before the trial.

- The guy that got a raw deal in this movie was George Witton. For one, Witton did not participate in the firing squads involved with killing the prisoners and had no knowledge of who killed the missionary. Yes, he did kill a Boar prisoner, but only in self defense after the prisoner attacked Witton and reached for his gun. Yet here he is being tried for a bunch of charges that he had little to no involvement in.

- The acting in this movie is top notch, as Edward Woodward does an excellent job as Breaker Morant. However, I think the real star was Jack Thompson as the defender J.F. Thomas. At first, Thompson is able to portray Thomas as a bit of an inexperienced attorney, which really he was, as the British saw it fit to provide the three with a defender who never tried a court-martial and had a whopping total of one day to prepare. But as the film progresses and Thomas becomes more and more of a thorn in the British's side with a passionate defense, Thompson really begins to shine, and stands out amongst a crowd of very talented actors. Of particular excellence was Thompson's performance during the closing statement of the court-martial, which is one of the better monologues I have seen in any film.

Overall, this is a very good film, deserving of its Oscar nomination and probably meriting a few more. The script is very well written and plays to the actors' strengths, and the actors are more than able to hold their own. Everything about this film is well done, and although it starts out a bit slow, the movie picks up and provides a very interesting tale of a very interesting historic event. Overall, I'd give Breaker Morant an 8.7 out of 10. Thanks for reading, and if you have ever seen this movie, than feel free to share your comments about the film or this post. Also, if you have any ideas for future reviews, then share them either by leaving a comment or by e-mail at

No comments:

Post a Comment