Shepherds and Butchers

SHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS—-fairly effective 2016 courtroom drama from South Africa in 2016, written & directed by Oliver Schmitz from a 455-page novel written eight years earlier by former South African barrister Chris Marnewick.

Set in the 1980s, during the Apartheid era, the story has an anti-capital punishment lawyer ‘John Weber’ (Steve Coogan) taking on the defense of ‘Leon Labuschnage’ (Garion Dowds) a young prison guard on trial for gunning down—seemingly without cause—seven  members of a black soccer team. Leon’s admitted guilt is obvious, but Weber’s defense gambit attempts to get at why the crime was committed, showing that Leon’s dehumanizing work overseeing sequential group hangings at the prison had traumatized him to snapping point. Flashbacks reveal just what Leon’s duties involved.

The courtroom back & forth between Weber and prosecutor ‘Kathleen Marias’ (Andrea Riseborough) is less compelling than the graphic prison execution and aftermath scenes. Though Coogan’s character (and author Marnewick) are opposed to capital punishment, the movie stands back from making a judgment, leaving it to the viewer. For certain, it makes a good case for showing its effect on those who carry it out (South Africa was on a hanging spree at the time): anyone tasked with the duties of Leon’s character and who didn’t melt down isn’t anybody you’d want to know.

Set in Pretoria, filmed in Cape Town. With Deon Lotz (projecting cold menace as the Warrant Officer) and Robert Hobbs. 106 minutes.

 

 

 

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