Actors: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown
Director: Bruce Beresford
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Subtitled, Widescreen
Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Run Time: 107 minutes
The complexities of the true story which Breaker Morant is based upon layers the narrative with moral ambiguities and discrepancies, making this a difficult film to categorize. It plays out like a typical courtroom drama, though the audience must sit in as members of the jury in a case which is not clear cut or simple; one could easily find justice in the argument from each side, as well as fault. This was a case that was much larger than the men or lives involved, having impact on the outcome of a peace treaty to end the war these crimes occurred during, as well as effecting relations between the countries involved long after the case had been closed.
Taking place at the turn of the twentieth century during the final days of the Boer War in South Africa, Breaker Morant follows the court case of three Australian soldiers fighting in a guerilla force on the British side when accused of war crimes for killer Boer prisoners of war and a German missionary (Bruno Knez). Leading these soldiers was Harry “Breaker” Morant (Edward Woodward), an English-born poet whose nickname came from his ability to break horses. Also accused was Lieutenant Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown), who joined the army to provide for his family living during an economically unstable period in
and Lieutenant George Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), whose misguided patriotism
led him to join the British Empire’s war.
Breaker Morant quickly becomes a case about moral judgment, especially since there are no real discrepancies over the fact that Boer prisoners were executed by these men. The question of their guilt has little to do with whether of not they committed the murders, but whether or not they were justified due to orders they were given by their superior commanders. Claiming that they were working under unwritten orders by Lord Kitchener (Alan Cassell), Morant and his men believe that their actions were sanctioned and necessary to their military responsibilities.
As if this case were not complex enough, an opening sequence which shows an attack on the Boers which results in the death of Morant’s friend and fellow soldier, Captain Hunt (Terence Donovan). We never see the death of Hunt, but when his body is discovered brutally mutilated, Morant takes the order to kill all Boer prisoners on as a personal mission of revenge. Even with Morant’s vengeful attitude remaining during the trial, their defense attorney, Major Thomas (Jack Thompson), is able to make a convincing argument that the responsibility of these deaths ultimately landed on the
This was clearly a message that remained controversial upon Breaker Morant’s theatrical release in
Despite winning ten awards at the Australian Institute Awards, it was given no BAFTA nominations and was ignored by most British film publications. The impact of Bruce Beresford’s film extended beyond the countries involved in the narrative, however, with American audiences finding parallels in the narrative with many
being made in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The success of Breaker Morant ultimately led Beresford to a successful career in Vietnam , including two
Oscar nominated film. Hollywood
The Blu-ray release of Breaker Morant has a newly restored 4K digital transfer of the film, supervised by Beresford. The filmmaker’s 2004 commentary track is included in the extras, along with an interview with actor Edward Woodward, and a 1973 documentary about the real Harry Morant. New special features include a new featurette about the Boer War, which includes commentary from historian Stephen Miller, as well as new interviews with Beresford, actor Bryan Brown, and cinematographer Donald McAlpine. The package also has a foldout insert booklet with an essay by film scholar Neil Sinyard.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 8/10