‘Breaker’ Morant (1980)

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Bruce Beresford directs Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson in this historical recreation of the British Army’s kangaroo court-martialling of three Australian soldiers during the Boer War

What should be a simple courtroom drama opens itself up for fine acting and complex, unresolved questions about culpability and ethics in the dehumanising theatre of war. The condemned are definitely guilty (as is everyone), yet they are equally not given a fair trial. The action sequences have heft. The flashbacks and finale have a lyrical magical realism. There are times when it feels like the witnesses’ stilted recollections are being filtered directly and purposely into the actors’ performances. And the greatest last words ever come out of Woodward’s mouth in the closing moments, he’s a dab hand at iconic final act fatalism. “Shoot straight, you bastards. – Don’t make a mess of it!” Rule 303. One coffin fits all in war, no room for personalities or conscientiousness.

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