Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 


Based on the historic 1946 trial of Japanese officers who were responsible for the death of hundreds of Australian POWs on the island of Ambon in the Indonesian Archipelago. Captain Cooper (Bryan Brown ) is the lawyer sent to prosecute the accused Japanese soldiers, with Lt Corbett (Russell Crowe) as his assistant. 

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The inclusion of a short extract of the interview Ray Martin conducted with Russell and Bryan is a good marketing move, and while it adds a bit of colour to the two actors’ respective connections to the film, it does not really add anything to our appreciation of the movie. Not that it has to. The film is good enough to do that all by itself, especially with the helpful doses of commentary.

The film is essentially a court room drama, but there are enough harrowing scenes set in the POW camp itself to make it a war drama. Yet as Stephen Wallace said at the time of production, the film is not really about the war. “It is as much about Japanese society.” Bryan Brown also hinted at this at the time: “They [the actors] are trapped by their customs and traditions. They couldn’t just say to the director, ‘Hey, Steve,’ as I do. One day we were talking and they said they wished they could say that; it made me see a bit better why they are as they are.”

Stephen Wallace handles the material with confidence and passion, and the performances are riveting, from Brown’s determined, formal Cooper to the sinewy portrayal of Vice Admiral Baron Takahashi by George Takei. It is the latter, the camp commander, who alone is not guided by ‘bushido’, the code of the Samurai and washes his hands of the routine. An aristocrat who is above all that, he loves medals and costumes and depends on advisors.

The extra materials on the DVD, completed in early 2002, provide the full context for the film, making the disc – with its CD ROM study guide extras – both an important historical document and a deeper experience of the movie. For example, the half hour feature on The Film’s Journey A Personal History by Brian Williams provides a comprehensive insight into not only how the film came about, which is fascinating enough, but adds some powerful dramatic circumstance to the film’s subject.

Williams went to a lot of trouble to produce the DVD, and even recorded some recollections by a handful of survivors of Ambon. While the sound is less than perfect, the content is sobering, and a valid extension to the movie itself, as factual texture for the horrors of the camp.

The two sets of commentary provide differing emphasis; Wallace is the filmmaker taking us through the shots. The writer/producers tackle the issues behind the making of the film in historical and personal terms.

Blood Oath is unlike most war movies and the DVD is a buffet of serious proportions, all with profound intent. The issues raised and examined by the film go far beyond the simple concepts of war crimes and their punishment; the DVD is devoted to examine the events in a bigger context, and to deliver a compassionate, fair and even handed account of cultures in conflict – and how men responded. 

Released in Australian cinemas in July 1990, Blood Oath was not popular; yet it’s one of Australia’s finest dramas, and it deals with not just a historically important event, but a sociologically valuable one. The DVD deserves considerable attention.

Published April 11, 2002

Email this article

You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia

FEATURE - Andrew L. Urban talks to Brian Williams, Stephen Wallace, Denis Whitburn

See Andrew L. Urban’s report from the set of Blood Oath in 1989, in MAKING OF


CAST: Bryan Brown, George Takei, Deborah Unger, John Polson, Russell Crowe

DIRECTOR: Stephen Wallace

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes (feature only)

SPECIAL FEATURES: Directors’ commentary; producer & writer commentary; The Film’s Journey A Personal History; behind the scenes with director commentary; Ambon POWs remember; Ray Martin interviews Russell Crowe & Bryan Brown; music video, Memorial Day by 30 Odd Foot of Grunts; theatrical trailer


DVD RELEASE: April 10, 2002

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020