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Australia 1979
Directed by
Bruce Beresford
107 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Breaker Morant

Bruce Beresford’s gripping fact-based wartime court drama, shot on location around Tanunda in South Australia, concerns the summary execution of prisoners during the Boer War by a group of Australian soldiers forming the Bushveldt Carbineers, and their consequent sacrifice by their British superiors, keen to keep Germany out of hostilities. The Australian Government of the time supported the decision although the new Federal Parliament subsequently passed a law refusing to recognize the trial of Australian soldiers by the army of another country.

Making full use of his cinematic resources, Beresford keeps the tension wound tight by cutting between the intense courtroom scenes and re-creations of the incidents under investigation which of course only we the audience can see in their entirety. This privileged view enables us to understand the insanity of war and the way in which ordinary men can do things of which under normal circumstances they would be incapable.  A fine script, which was nominated for an Academy Award, co-written by Beresford with Jonathan Hardy and David Stevens from a play by Kenneth Ross makes the injustice and abuse of power a palpable reality.

It is however the excellent performances by Edward Woodward as the adventurer and poet, Harry “Breaker” Morant, Bryan Brown and Lewis Fitz-Gerald as his fellow defendants and in a standout role, Jack Thompson as their lawyer, which galvanizes proceedings. Once seen, Breaker Morant will never be forgotten.

Up to this time Beresford, one of the pioneers of the renaissance in Australian film during the 1970s had stayed with distinctively Australian material like Don’s Party which was about the 1969 Federal election and The Club, which was about what was then known as VFL, not to mention the infamous Barry McKenzie ocker comedies. This film, however, demonstrated an entirely new level of directorial skill, won widespread international praise and launched his American career.




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