Breaker Morant (1980) or An Australian Look at the Second Boer War

The Australian movie Breaker Morant is one of those movies that leave you thoughtful and pensive for quite a long time. It leaves you feeling helpless and infuriated as well by unmasking the hypocrisy of those in charge. It brilliantly illustrates the absurdity of war and deserves to be named together with the most important anti-war films ever done.

The movie is based on the true story of the court-martial of three Australian officers Lt Harry “Breaker” Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton by a British court. They were accused of having shot first one, then six POWs and subsequently a German missionary. Their defense attorney Jack Thompson who was inexperienced and soon tried to accuse those in charge of the trial as well.

The movie tells the storiy alternating court-room scenes with flashbacks.

The second Boer war (1899-1902)  was by far worse than the first. The Dutch started to fight a guerilla war against the British who then fought back and organized a special troop, The Bushveldt Carabineers, for wich they appointed Australian soldiers. The idea was to fight the Boer with their own means.

Harry Morant volunteered to go to South Africa because he believed in the British Empire. How utterly tragic.  In Australia he was famous as a breaker of horses and poet. Edward Woodward plays this proud, upright and poised character with an excellence I have rarely seen. This is such a brilliant actor I wonder why he never made it to more fame.

The longer we watch the trial the more we realise that it is a sham. The British need scape goats to save their reputation. What those officers are ultimately accused of is what they were told to do. Only now no one wants to take responsibility for it. Of course this is also a meditation on what is good or bad during war.

Breaker Morant is interesting for cinema historic reasons as well since it is part of the so-called Australian New Wave, of which Gallipoli and The Lighthorsemen are other great examples.

This is without any doubt a 5 star movie.

Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan (2007)

What is the best word to describe this movie? I would say it is enthralling. The cinematography is stunning. The vastness of the Mongolian steppe would leave no one indifferent but captured in such wonderful pictures there is no escaping the enchantment. These amazing views are underlined by one of the most convincing scores I have heard in any movie recently. Chanting monks, female singers, musical parts. Picture wise it did remind me of Urga aka Close to Eden, a  gorgeous Mongolian movie I haven seen a few years back. We can easily deduce that material life in the Mongolina steppe has not changed much. People still live in yurts, even the clothes bear a certain resemblance.

The Russian movie Mongol is the first installment of a trilogy on the live of Genghis Khan. It shows his childhood, how he chose his wife Borte (Khulan Chuluun), the great love of his life, how his father is killed and how he later has to fight for his survival until he becomes the unifier of the Mongolian tribes and their leader. He is not yet called Genghis Khan, he is still Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) a boy from a modest background whose father was one of many Khans.

Life at those times seemed to have been incredibly hard. The tribes were stealing from each other (horses and women),  assaulted each other, killed each other. It is hard to imagine a life of greater insecurity than this. Whenever the future Genghis Khan triumphed over someone he was shown as very just and generous. As a consequence of this behaviour people wanted to follow him, they chose him as their leader.

The Genghis Khan we see is someone who inspires pity because of the hardships he has to endure and admiration for the way he treats people, especially his wife to whom he is very attached.

I cannot say much about the historical accuracy. Usually Genghis Khan, who was once the leader of the greatest empire that ever existed, is shown as a merciless cruel despot. There is not much room for beauty in those tales of his life. I tried to find out more and apparently it depends on the sources that are being used whether his portrait is more negative or more positive.

I was fascinated by the spiritual aspects in the movie, the deity that appeared in the form of a wolf. The wolf  is very meaningful to the people of the Mongolian steppe. Certainly the depiction of the Mongolian religion is not accurate but I liked this  dimension.

I thought the acting was excellent but have read that it has been criticized that a Japanese actor stars as Temudjin. The accents of the actors seem to be painful to Mongolian ears as well. I even read that some actors spoke Mandarin Chinese which was not yet spoken at the time… I don´t speak any of those languages therefore I was not bothered.

I think this is a very special, aesthetic, riveting movie and  I am not surprised it was nominated for an Oscar and won many prizes.

Centurion (2010): A little bit of Gladiator, King Arthur and 300

When I started this blog I wanted to stick to war movies in the strict sense of the term only but now I feel I am in the mood for more liberties. A few months back I would not have included Centurion but now I do. I would not have mentioned Gladiator, King Arthur or 300 either. (If I did, King Arthur would be high up in my Top 10, probaly even making Black Hawk Down step down.)

Be it as it may, to compare Centurion (a British movie by the way) to those above mentioned movies is very unfortunate for it because it is not up to the comparison, I’m afraid. Nevertheless it is  entertaining. However, compared to the three others, Centurion is super gory. And there are a lot of very combative warrior women in it. By the way, Dominic West, from The Wire,  is in this one too but he is not the main character. He stars as General Vilnius. Michael Fassbender has the leading role as the Centurion Quintus Dias. The German actor Fassbender could already be seen in 300, Inglourious Basterds and The Devil’s Whore, to name but a few of his movies.

The year is 117 AD. The Roman Empire stretches from Spain to Egypt and as far as the Black Sea in the East. Only Britain is fighting off its invaders. The Empire is stopped by the savagely fierce Picts.  Centurion Quintus Dias is the only survivor of a Pictish raid. He joins the legendary Ninth Legion of General Vilnius who is on a mission to erase the Picts and their leader Gorlacon from the face of the earth. When they are ambushed and the general is captured Quintus Dias is left alone with a small platoon far behind enemy lines. They first attempt to free their general and after this the real hunt begins. Led by a female warrior tracker (Olga Kurylenko), surnamed she-wolf, who has been mutilated by Romans in her youth and sworn to destroy each and every one of them, the Picts hunt them relentlessly. Without the help of a Pictish outcast, said to be a witch, they would not stand a chance but even so, they are soon highly decimated and in great trouble.

As said before, Centurion is really gory. It reminded me of Gladiator because of the battles in the woods. Of King Arthur because of the way they flee and are hunted,  because of the scenerey, mountains and snow and  also because of the female warriors. Same for 300. A little group outnumbered by a fierce enemy. The end however is quite different from the other three.

As I already said, it is not as good as the other three mentioned movies, since it is not  heavy on psychology and the Picts are shown as savages whereas we are led to believe the Romans were faultless,  but it is an  entertaining watch with loads of  battle and fighting scenes.

For a change the trailer is quite true to the movie.

Sometimes in April (2005) Part I

This is Part I of the HBO production Sometimes in April on the war in Rwanda (see Friday’s post) starring Idris Elba and Debra Winger. As I said, I haven’t seen it yet but it looks as if the whole movie has been posted in bits on YouTube. It seems well worth watching.

Some Actors of The Wire and their Roles in Recent War Movies

I am not the most avid viewer of series but there are some I did or do enjoy a lot. Six Feet Under was just excellent and so is True Blood. I also quite like Dexter. One of the best series however is The Wire, pretty awesome. Maybe you liked The Wire too and were wondering what some of the excellent actors did after  the The Wire has ended.

Set during the British Civil War, The Devil´s Whore is a very convincing historical drama.   Dominic West, Detective Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, stars as Oliver Cromwell. This mini series is a must-see for everybody interested in British history. It does take some liberties with some facts but still it is more than just good.

Idris Elba who played the unlikable baddie Russell “Stringer” Bell in The Wire can be seen in the leading role in Sometimes in April. I have not seen this yet but I read that it is the best movie that has been done on the war in Rwanda. Far better than Hotel Rwanda. It is a TV production, maybe that is  the reason why it is not widely known. Unlike Hotel Rwanda it really looks into the history of Rwanda and the reasons for the conflict.

Last but not least, James Ransone, who played the annoying character Ziggy Sobotka, stars as Cpl. Josh Ray Person at the side of Alexander Skarsgard in Generation Kill. A very good performance.

Ok, it is slightly off topic, but what series do you think are outstanding? Any preferences? Suggestions?