Schoolteacher Ben du Toit (Donald Sutherland) has been insulated all his life from the horrors of apartheid in his native South Africa. Perhaps he really didn't want to know. When the son of his black gardener is arrested ... more »and beaten as a result of a schoolboy protest in Soweto, at first he imagines the police must have had their reasons. However, the boy is picked up again, and this time he doesn't come back. Ben promises his servant that he will look into the incident, and discovers that the boy was killed simply to gratify the violent urges of Captain Stolz (Jurgen Prochnow), a "special branch" policeman. At long last he has gotten a glimpse into the truly arbitrary and violent nature of the system he has so long benefited from, and he hires Ian Mackenzie (Marlon Brando) to prosecute the killer. It is a foregone conclusion that Stolz will not be punished, but Mackenzie rises to new heights of withering sarcasm and irony in the courtroom. This situation turns Ben into a radical firebrand, which alienates him from his white friends and neighbors, as well as members of his family.« less
"Susan Surandon's cynical remark to Donald Sutherland, indicating that although he's lived all his life in South Africa, he was oblivoius to the brutality surrounding his normal family life. Schoolteacher Meneer Du Toit literally loses everything in his struggle to bring justice to those responsible for the deaths of his gardener and his gardener's son. Feeling guilty after taking his gardener's son's death a little too lightly, he is immediately swept up in the chaotic world of corruption and bloody cover-ups, after seeing the body of his badly beaten and tortured friend of 15 years.
The movie is full of gripping scenes and holds nothing back, with brutal slayings of children, torture scenes, and a disturbing view into a hospital mortuary. The film is primarily rated R for these violent images.
Marlon Brando, although appearing for maybe 15-20 minutes of the film, really takes over in his scenes, as slick barrister, Ian MacKenzie. Even though his courtroom battle is futile, he certainly gets in his licks. He played his character to a tee, and definitely deserved the Oscar nomination, despite the controversy that year, over his limited screen time.
I was much younger when I first rented the film around 1990, and it hits me harder today than it did back then. It's a well acted film, and a powerful one, Donald Sutherland gives and incredible perfomance and a particularly moving scene in the film is when he is in tears on the phone, speaking to his daughter, after finally realizing she has betrayed him. Except for his son, most of his family, friends, and colleagues do not wish to associate with him after the path his as chosen in fighting a losing battle against corruption. A top notch film about a man willing to give up everything, in pursuit of truth and justice over the wrongful death of a friend. This should be on everyone's must see list of important 80's films."
Outstanding, powerful and moving
John Mark Shaw | Lancashire, United Kingdom | 10/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ben du Toit is a schoolteacher who always has considered himself a man of caring and justice, at least on the individual level. When his gardener's son is brutally beaten up by the police at a demonstration by black school children, he gradually begins to realize his society is built on a pillar of injustice and exploitation. This incredibly powerful film deals intelligently with the devastatingly brutal tensions surrounding the explosive issues within assumed class tiers and the racially incongruous tempest that was the violent melting pot of southern Africa. Sutherland's performance is one of his finest, ably backed up by Susan Sarandon."
Gritty realism; a real eye-opener
mooney1787 | Wisconsin | 07/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When you start with a cast that includes Donald Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Marlon Brando and Jürgen Prochnow, you're bound to come up with a very powerful movie.When you add in the highly charged issue of Apartheid in South Africa, you absolutely can't miss.This movie is based in part upon the events of the Soweto Massacre in 1976, a dramatization of which is shown in all-too-graphic detail, and in part on a (I think) fictionalized account of the types of events which occurred during Apartheid.An excellent performance by all of the major players and a movie well worth viewing -- more than once."
Powerful and Moving
Michelle the Doula | On the road to world-peace | 06/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is beautiful and disturbing. I watched this originally as a junior in high school, 15 years ago; it's message has never left me. I give it extremely high accolades."
Brilliant example of living history
Stephen Borrow | Sydney Australia | 09/09/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The world now knows how the bigger part of this story played out. Nelson Mandela was freed, the ANC voted into power, and the Apartheid system dismantled. This made the sacrifices portrayed in this wonderful film all the more poignant. Donald Sutherland gave a great performance as the central hero, and the wonderful Marlon Brando, a whimsical, but impressive representation of the human rights lawyer, jaded by his past jousting with blind justice, but incapable of turning his back on the evils of South African Police state. The South African support cast are also impressive. The film is not a masterpiece, but it holds attention because of the power of the story, and the first class acting. One would have to have ice in their veins or be a dyed in the wool racist not to be moved to tears by the replaying of these dreadful crimes."