One of the saddest facts about human affairs is that we never seem to learn from history either our own or that of others. If Americans had studied the Boer War of 1901, they might have anticipated some of the military, moral, and legal issues which arose during the Vietnam conflict. In both instances, well-trained troops were pitted against ill-equipped men, women, and children. All the polite rules of military conduct are scrapped in guerrilla warfare.
Breaker Morant is a top-notch film centered around the court-martial of three Australian soldiers from a British combat unit who allegedly shot to death a handful of Boers and a German missionary in revenge for the murder and mutilation of the unit's captain. From the outset, it is clear that Lord Kitchener, the High Commander, needs some scapegoats to pay the price for following his dastardly orders to execute all captured enemies. To insure the outcome of the trial, he assigns the Australian's defense to Major Thomas, an inexperienced solicitor who is only given one day to organize his case.
Bruce Beresford, the Australian director who brought us The Getting of Wisdom, orchestrates the courtroom scenes with excellent dramatic pacing. Jack Thompson's stirring performance as Major Thomas is a tour de force. Edward Woodward as Breaker Morant (named for his breaking of horses in Australia) convincingly portrays this erudite man's fiery personality and his folk hero dimensions. That two men were executed and one sentenced to life imprisonment for the errors of their superiors is but another example of injustice in the annals of military history.