Recently I watched several lessons the master class by Aaron Sorkin for screenwriting.
One of the first things that he teaches about writing a script is to define what the protagonist wants and define the obstacles in the way of achieving it.
In this movie, the director follows this blueprint to the letter. Right from the get-go, we know the plot driver – Charlee Burns (the middle brother) would have to kill his older brother Arthur or else the Captain will kill his younger brother Mike. The obstacles, of course, being that his “bad” brother was hard to find and kill.
So, my initial thought was that Charlee will do just that. I only didn’t know how exactly he will execute this plan. Boy, was I was glad that it wasn’t a simple “good” against “bad” guy shootout. Although the movie had, plenty of gun smoke and other types of violence and in a way it was good against evil struggle. Only the boundaries of what good and what’s bad became murky and the movie plot doesn’t offer this determination in a readily digestive form.
Much of the presumption about a person follows from an opinion of other people. At the beginning of Arthur Burns is presented as a “main bad guy”, an abomination, the person mainly responsible for all the murders, rapes, etc.
However, cruel when it came to the fighting business and a mastermind behind the gangs’ activities, Arthur turned out to be a sophisticated and well-educated man, who loved his family and who, unlike many white people on this side of the law, was not a racist like, for example, Sergeant Lawrence and Officer Dunn.
In fact, racism and bigotry is a part of the social landscape in Australia in the mid 19 century. The treatment of Australian aborigines from the side of the white Australian population was no better than the treatment of African Americans people in the US. Of course, not all white characters in the movie were racists. The protagonist captain Stanley and Charlie Burns, for example, are not racists, although they look dirty (as if they have never taken a shower) and speak so unclear that to a none native speaker it is hard to understand.
The character closest to the protagonist in this movie is Captain Stanley, who is trying to establish the rule of law in this “god forgotten hellhole.” One of the good sides of Captain Stanley is that in the complex situation on hands, he acts on the spirit of the law rather than its letter. He understood that Mike was a weak person and if he was doing evil things, it was because he was under the influence Arthur. Thus, he was the originator of the nonstandard idea to bargain Mike’s life to Arthur. This idea, however, backfired. The inhabitance of the city, most of whom were rude, rough and uneducated people went over his authority and lashed Mike to death. While now demoted Captain Leslie had to face infuriated Arthur and his gang.
There are other interesting details and significant characters in the movie, which I dropped in this short review. The most important conclusion that I could come up with was that the real life does not have dual pole structure and the choice of proper behavior under those complex circumstances isn’t something set in stone, but a subject of contemplation and making difficult choices for every person.