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During the bitter South African Boer War in 1901, the (mostly Dutch) Boers are desperate to retain their independence from Britain and mobilize 'commando' forces with hardline tactics. A unit of the Bushveldt Carbineers, mainly Australians, are ordered by the British High Command to take the fight to the Boer - and take no prisoners. The order proves fatal to a man they call "The Breaker" - Lieutenant Harry Morant (Edward Woodward) an Englishman whose nickname was earned in the Aussie bush as a horse wrangler, and for Lt Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown). Along with Lt George Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), the men are court martialled, and junior lawyer Major J. F. Thomas (Jack Thompson) is assigned to defend them.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Breaker Morant is a jewel in the crown of Australian cinema - as well as in the career of director Bruce Beresford. And Beresford surrounded himself with highly talented department heads, ranging from cinematographer Don McAlpine through editor Bill Anderson to production designer David Copping, who each contributed greatly to the final result, a multi award winning and popular courtroom drama set in a war zone. Anderson's work is especially noteworthy for its outstanding courtroom jump cuts, for instance, of close ups to drive the tension.

The strength of the story underpins the courtroom drama, where Jack Thompson as Major J. F. Thomas does his best to defend the Aussie soldiers serving under British command in the court martial where they are charged with killing Boer prisoners. Thompson won a Best Supporting Actor award at Cannes - and general acclamation from cinemagoers around the world. Edward Woodward as Harry Morant, Bryan Brown as Lt Peter Hancock and Lewis Fitz-Gerald as Lt George Witton are all outstanding, delivering crisp characterisations in sensitive performances.

The supporting cast is also brilliant, from Charles 'Bud' Tingwell's crusty old British Lt Col Denny as the President of the court martial to John waters as intelligence officer Capt Alfred Taylor and Vincent Ball as Col Johnny Hamilton.

The tense but still courtroom scenes are in contrast to a few well staged and directed action scenes of fighting, like the sudden and brutal Boer attack on a British fort. Cinematically excellent and emotionally powerful, this sequence also shines for its economy.

The Oscar nominated adaptation screenplay juggles our emotions with care as it presents the fact-based story of men caught in the dirty business of war, where orders and conscience often clash. This story has retained its grip on our imaginations and our hearts because it goes to that intangible place where there are two rights and two wrongs fused together in a never ending struggle. Unlike the simple stories of good v evil, this is a story of choices made in the grey areas of morality, deep in the morass of war.

Beresford teases out this theme without preaching or overtly addressing the issues, allowing audiences to draw on the nuances and the actions of his characters. It confronts the corrosive and irreconcilable morality of 'just obeying orders'. "The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men..." as Major Thomas says.

Bristling with AFI Awards and a Best Foreign Film nomination from the Golden Globes, Breaker Morant is still as moving and riveting as it was in 1979. And this double disc Premium Edition is the perfect excuse to add it to a home library.

The second disc is dedicated to Frank Shields' award winning historical doco, The Breaker, and The Myth Exploded, Frank Shields' director's postscript in which he reveals a vital piece of information revealed in a 1929 letter from Witton to Taylor. It's an explosive finale to this extraordinary double disc.

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(Aust, 1979)

CAST: Jack Thompson, Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, John Waters, Terence Donovan, Vincent Ball, Ray Meagher, Chris Haywood, Rod Mullinar

PRODUCER: Matt Carroll

DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford

SCRIPT: Bruce Beresford, Jonathan Hardy, David Stevens (play by Kenneth G. Ross)


EDITOR: William Anderson


RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85:1 HD; DD 5.1; 2 disc set

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: feature; Disc 2: The Breaker (52 min. doco); The Myth Exploded (6 min. director's postscript); poster & photo gallery


DVD RELEASE: October 7, 2010

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