Breaker Morant by director Bruce Beresford is one the classic early international breakthroughs of the Australian film industry. Becoming a favorite anti-war film almost immediately upon its release, the story, based on true events, follows group of army lieutenants in the early 20th century South Africa, fighting for the British, who face court martial after executing boer prisoners of war on orders from their commanders, one of whom turns out to be a German citizen. The higher ups, in order to appease the Germans, decide to bring charges against the men and make an example of them, especially the Englishman living in South Africa and fighting in one of the heavily Australian regimens, Henry “Breaker” Morant (Edward Woodward), the man who relayed the orders.
The film’s signature is its lack of sentimentality while dealing with its subject. Obviously being produced years after the incident took place (Breaker Morant is from 1980), it has an outsider’s perspective on a dark period and the obvious hypocrisy taking place. Carrying the story is the direct editing, sweeping cinematography of the gorgeous landscapes (the film was shot on location with South Australia standing in for South Africa), and the powerful acting from its cast. As the screenplay is equally a character study as it is a docudrama, the performances from the likes of Woodward, Jack Thompson, John Waters and Bryan Brown are what make Breaker Morant even more riveting with each watch.
This is a new digital transfer of Breaker Morant created in 4K on a Northlight 2 film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative at Modern VideoFilm in Burbank, California. Reel 8 of the film was badly damaged, so that portion of the 4K transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner using wet-gate processing at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna. The director, Bruce Beresford, oversaw the color grading himself and additional processing to remove dirt, scratches, debris, splices, dirt and jitter was done using MTI’s DRS and Digital Vision’s Phoenix. The AVC/MPEG-4 1080p looks beautiful. I strained to see any portion that was badly damaged more, so the restoration was very effective. The grain looks very evenly layered and organic, and offers a good amount of texture. Colors are good, although this is not a film where the color really pop. This film, being shot in 1980, still has the ‘70s look of a reserved, real world kind of color, less stylized than today’s films would be, but very satisfying. It effectively conveys the heat and sunlight of the dry outdoors.
The monaural soundtrack, provided in LPCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit) was taken from a 35mm magnetic track and processed in Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotrope RX 4 to remove pops, clicks, hiss, thumps, and crackle. Given the limitations of the single channel and the age, the sound is quite good with intelligible dilogue, but just a little thin.
The booklet is unusually thin for this Criterion release, but the on disc extras are of the usual high quality and worth watching, especially the 1973 documentary The Breaker.
- Audio commentary with director and co-screenwriter Bruce Beresford, recorded on 2004.
- Bruce Beresford (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:12:34) – In this interview, recorded for the Criterion Collection on 2015, Breaker Morant director and coscreenwriter Brice Beresford recalls the production of this landmark Australian film.
- Donald McAlpine (1080p/24; 00:08:28) – In this interview with Donald McAlpine, shot for the Criterion Collection in 2015, the celebrated cinematographer recalls his pivotal early work in Breaker Morant.
- Bryan Brown (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:10:17) – In this interview, recorded for the Criterion Collection in 2015, actor Bryan Brown talks about his international breakthrough performance as Lieutenant Peter Handcock in Breaker Morant.
- Edward Woodward (1.33:1; up-scaled 1080i/60; 00:16:12) – Actor Edward Woodward discusses playing Lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Morant in this 2004 interview.
- The South African War – Produced for the Criterion Collection in 2015, this piece features historian Stephen Miller, author of Volunteers on the Veld, discussing the Boer War and, in particular, the conflict depicted in Breaker Morant.
- The Breaker (1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:54:53) – Made in 1973, this documentary by Frank Shields looks at the life of the Anglo-Australian army captain Harry “Breaker” Morant.
- The Myth Exploded (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:05:42) – In this 2011 piece, The Breaker director Frank Shields discusses his film and its omission of a key detail about Harry “Breaker” Morant.
- Theatrical Trailer (1.85:1; 1080p/24; 00:02:31)
- Essay on the film by film scholar Neil Sinyard
The Definitive Word
A powerhouse anti-war drama from Australia, Breaker Morant has only grown in stature over the years and this Criterion Collection 4K restoration is a wonderful way to watch it. It looks fantastic.
Additional Screen Captures