Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Edward Woodward, Jack
Thompson, Bryan Brown, Lewis Fitz-Gerald
Director: Bruce Beresford
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: September 22, 2015
“Shoot straight, you bastards. Don't make a mess of it!”
The emergence of Australian filmmaking, which began in the mid-70s, brought with it mostly high octane exploitation fare, most notably in the form of Mad Max. But it also resulted in serious dramatic fare, most notably in the works of filmmakers such as Peter Weir. Another director to emerge was that of Bruce Beresford, whose 1980 film Breaker Morant is indeed a suiting companion piece to Weir’s Gallipoli.
Based on a play by Kenneth Ross, the film tells of horrific evens that unfolded during the Boer War in South Africa. But rather than showing the actual incidents on the battlefield, they are revealed in the film through a court martial. Three Australian lieutenants; Peter Hancock (Bryan Brown), George Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald) and Harry “Breaker” Morant (Edward Woodward) have been charged with murder during the course of the war. Their appointed lawyer, J.F. Thomas (Jack Thompson) has no more than one day to organize a legal defense and save the three men from death by firing squad.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the film could have served as the inspiration for the similarly themed A Few Good Men. That film, keep in mind, started out as a stage play as well. The underrated Hart’s War, which told of a court martial on a German POW camp in WW2, more than likely drew inspiration as well. What differentiates this film from the later ones is that this is far bleaker story and, without giving much away, doesn’t carry with it a cheerful resolution.
The performances are fantastic all across the boards, with the ever so commanding Edward Woodward turning in one of his truly best performances ever in the titular role. Director Beresford, who would go on to make the award winning Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy, shows tremendous strength in storytelling on a most minimalist scale here. And the ending does give the entire film a pure potent effect.
Applying a 4k transfer, Criterion has mastered a thoroughly fantastic Blu-ray presentation of this film. Both the courtroom set pieces, as well as the scenes set against the South African landscape, appear most tremendously in the format. Colors give the picture a glowing, natural feeling and is balanced out very well with the picture grain that is left intact.
The mono track serves this 35 year old film quite nicely. It’s mostly a dialogue oriented piece, and the spoken words are delivered in fantastic form. We also get several scenes during the war that give off some effective sound, as well. Yet another fine sound job from Criterion.
Criterion yet again displays their superior approach to extras with this release. We get a commentary from Bruce Beresford, as well as interviews with Beresford, cinematographer Donald McAlpine, and actor Bryan Brown. There’s also an interview with actor Edward Woodward from 2004, and a new piece about the Boer War with historian Stephen Miller. We also get "The Breaker," a fascinating 1973 documentary profiling the real Harry "Breaker" Morant along with a 2010 statement by its director, Frank Shields, and a Trailer. There’s also an insert booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Neil Sinyard.
Breaker Morant is a most fascinating recreation of a point in history not that well known by those outside of Australia. It’s very much worth checking out on this most superb Blu-ray release from Criterion.