A wrenching picture about South Africa that makes no expedient compromises with feel-good entertainment values, A Dry White Season displays riveting performances and visceral style.
Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy – who is black – never tempers her outrage, but the film [from the novel by Andre Brink] drives home the point that the story of South Africa is a story of two races that’s unlikely to be resolved by either one alone.
Set in 1976, the film moves quickly to a searing sequence in which a demonstration by black schoolchildren of Soweto is broken up with gratuitous lethal force. Many are brutally beaten and arrested, including the son of Gordon Ngubene (Winston Ntshona), a gardener who works at the comfortable home of naive prep school teacher Ben du Toit (Donald Sutherland).
Du Toit is a basically decent man who cares enough to pay for the missing boy’s schooling but not enough to question society’s blatantly unjust status quo.
With mounting astonishment this community pillar comes to discover what he’s always closed his eyes to: South African ‘justice and law could be described as distant cousins – not on speaking terms.’
Those words are spoken by Ian McKenzie (Marlon Brando), rising with a world-weary magnificence to the role of a prominent human rights attorney whose idealism has been battered into resignation. Sarcasm is his only tactic, the moral high ground his only refuge as McKenzie proves Cpt Stolz (Jurgen Prochnow) a murderer, but loses his case before a judge who makes no effort to hide his disgraceful bias.
1989: Nomination: Best Supp. Actor (Marlon Brando)