September 13, 2005

More Gratuitous Llama Netflix Posting

I had promised myself that I would start Netflixing only with movies I hadn't seen before. But a sudden inspiration urged me to sneak this one into the queu:


Breaker Morant.

If you've never seen this 1980 movie, I can't recommend it too highly. It tells the stories of three members of Australia's Bushveldt Carbineers, an irregular commando unit that specialized in guerilla tactics, who were court-marshalled by the British during the Boer War for allegedly committing atrocities against the Boers, including shooting prisoners. (They were also accused but acquitted of shooting a German missionary who tried to complain about their behavior.) The lead defendant was the flamboyantly romantic Lt. Harry Harbord "Breaker" Morant - poet, adventurer and, by all accounts, rogue.

The argument at the trial wasn't so much over whether the Carbineers had taken the actions claimed - they more or less admitted it - but whether they were acting under orders. Although a good deal of the record seems to have vanished under mysterious circumstances, it seems at least plausible that they had indeed been told to carry on, but that the Brits - in the face of growing international scrutiny - decided to sacrifice them in order to cover their own backsides and to show that "something was being done" to bring about reform. (British Government post-trial behavior certainly adds weight to this suggestion.) The film definitely takes this line.

As I say, there isn't much historical record to go on. I've searched the 'net every now and again and only come up with a hand-full of tribute sites, many reprinting some of Morant's poetry.

The only traditional history I have of the Boer War is:

boer war.gif

The Boer War by Thomas Pakenham. It's an excellent overview, but devotes literally three sentences to the Morant trial, suggesting that Australian claims of its soldiers' innocence were overblown. Whatever the merits, this incident was significant in that it prompted the Australian Government to never again allow its own soldiers to be put under total foreign legal command.

But the history aside, this is a beautifully done movie. If you've only ever seen Edward Woodward as the Equalizer, it will open your eyes to his true range. The cinematography is, at times, breathtaking (for example, the visual pairing of the two firing squads, the Bushveldt Carbineers and the Cameron Highlanders, has always touched me), the courtroom drama is first rate and there are a couple of very good battle scenes as well. And lest you think it's all kangaroo courts and battlefield atrocities, there is also a good bit of humor in the film.

As I say, if you haven't seen it, you really should.

Posted by Robert at September 13, 2005 01:37 PM | TrackBack

Great movie. Another fine, although odd, Edward Woodward movie is The Wicker Man. Try to see it before the Hollywood remake comes out. My favorite bit in Breaker is when the lawyer gets pissed. A coming of age moment in a middle aged man. Almost inspirational. I liked The Equalizer, not only for the Stewart Copeland theme music, but because I live in McLean and remember some of the retired Grey Men who were still badasses.

Posted by: pinky at September 13, 2005 02:42 PM

Terrific movie, out of that incredibly brief Australian renaissance in film-making. The director, Bruce Beresford, had a string of decent, successful films through the 1980s, but the last movie of his that I saw was Black Robe, from 1991. I guess he qualifies as a Flash in the Pan Technical Dude of the Eighties.

Posted by: utron at September 13, 2005 04:47 PM

Black Robe was brilliant. Everything "Dances with Wolves" should have been but wasn't (understatement of the week). There was no greater crime than giving the Oscar to DWW and not Black Robe...

Posted by: LB buddy at September 13, 2005 05:59 PM

I loved Woodward in Equalizer, Wicker Man was okay, in the way Zardoz was okay, but I'll have to see if our lowly Family Video has Breaker Morant. I miss Woodward. IMDB won't load, so I can't go see what he's been doing or if he's dead. If it's the latter, don't tell me.

Posted by: tee bee at September 14, 2005 11:15 AM