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Burrard (2005 film) (Napoleon's World)

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Burrard
Directed by Jerry Patterson
Produced by Jerry Patterson
Ken Nesbitt
Written by Jerry Patterson
Starring Bradley Cooper
Yuri Petranov
William Hurt
Roman Lukhov
Vladimir Konstantyenko
Nick Gross
Dean Dole
Studio Avalon Entertainment
Release date(s) 2005
Running time 177 minutes
Country United States
Language English, Russian w/ English subtitles

Burrard is a 2005 war film written and directed by Jerry Patterson, set against the backdrop of the Battle of Burrard in 1884 during the Alaskan War. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. The film starred William Hurt, Bradley Cooper, Vladimir Konstantyenko, Yuri Petranov and Nick Gross.


Burrard was considered a milestone in American war movies, and upon release was actively compared to Oahu (1962) and The Jungle (1986). Patterson, who directed critically acclaimed The Watchers in 2001, which was about the English Adventure, had wanted to make a "war epic" for many years, and felt that his previous war project had been limited by its racial commentary.

Plot

The film is told from two alternating perspectives, one from the Americans and one from the Alaskans. The Alaskan side has the entirety of its dialogue in subtitled Russian, but the American angle is more deeply explored.

The film opens with General James Nansett (William Hurt) speaking to a cabal of generals in Tacoma at a fancy dinner, which includes a play and expensive courses. Immediately outside, American soldiers are visiting saloons in the bustling frontier city, finding a number of prostitutes and getting into barfights with the locals. Among these soldiers is John Rogers (Bradley Cooper), a former Presbyterian minister from Pennsylvania who joined the US Army after his church was closed due to lack of funds, and Abraham McGovern (Matt Spryden), who is allegedly one of the best marksmen in the entire army.

Nansett addresses a number of officers from the Army of Oregon the next day, promising them a swift victory over the Alaskans who are approaching over the mountains in the Fraser Territory. Leaving Tacoma by train, Rogers and McGovern get into a lively discussion with a number of other soldiers about what the Fraser Valley is like, hearing it is a forested woodland even wilder than the area around Tacoma.

Meanwhile, at the Alaskan camp deep in the mountains of the Fraser Territory, Ivan (Vladimir Konstantyenko) is having a letter dictated home to his wife, as he is illiterate. The Alaskans are not nearly as well equipped as the Americans but are numerous and shown to be noble soldiers - a group of scouts, including an officer named Nikolay (Roman Lukhov) come across a village fifty miles from Sahalee and spare the lives of all the American locals, telling them to run and hide lest they be caught in the army's way.

The Alaskans are led by Boris Anasenko (Yuri Petranov), who in a series of flashbacks is revealed to be seriously at odds by the artistocrats of Alaska, primarily due to his background as a commoner. He is shown to be intimate with his own soldiers, unlike a number of his own officers, who despite his seniority refer to him as "General Peasant." Anasenko holds a conference with his top advisors where they consider the difficult geography around Sahalee, specifically the mountains and the large Burrard peninsula that must be crossed to reach the city at the south shore of the Fraser River's delta. Anasenko reluctantly agrees with his top aides that the American army must be "broken" for their continued march. Anasenko gives a rousing speech to his men in which he promises a swift victory, even though he privately acknowledges to his close aide, Yuri Sergeyev ( ) that he is worried that his men will become demoralized in the face of superior American numbers and weaponry. The Alaskans head out on a forced march in the evening, marching through the night.

Rogers and McGovern are dispatched with their company to the village of Burrard, at the north end of the region. They notice that they will be trapped against an inlet should anything go wrong, but their commander, Captain Queensby, defiantly tells them to be quiet. At dawn, the Alaskans attack the unprepared and unsuspecting Americans at Burrard itself, inflicting heavy casualties. Rogers and McGovern manage to escape by boat during the haphazard, bloody and disastrous American retreat, but their boats are separated.

Anasenko surveys the carnage and, without boats, orders his men to move around the inlet and cross at the narrows near the Kirk Peninsula or further east, dismayed at allowing the Americans to escape to safety after such a demoralizing victory on the North Shore. Ivan and Nikolay survey the carnage, and they come across a body of an American soldier who looks unusually young. They philosophize on the virtue of war and Ivan closes the boy's open eyes and places his crucifix in the dead boy's hand.

At the American camp across the river from Sahalee, Nansett refuses to consider a retreat away from the awkward Fraser River delta, maintaining that retreating is a political impossibility and that his confidants who urged him to defend the town of Burrard itself were foolish for picking such an indefensible position. McGovern and other survivors of the massacre at Burrard are treated for their wounds and recount the horrors they experienced.

Sergeyev, with infantry and cavalry, launches an attack from the east that decimates the American front lines. Rogers, having come ashore further up the inlet during the attack, survives the encounter and kills an Alaskan with his knife in a hand-to-hand fight, the first time he has ever taken a life. He is knocked unconscious during a cannon blast, and appears dead to Alaskan soldiers combing the field, whom Ivan is among. When he wakes up, he wanders the battlefield, wondering where everybody is and whether or not he has died and gone to Hell.

Wandering the forests of the Burrard Peninsula, Rogers encounters Captain Meriweather (Gross) and members of his company, who are all Mississippians and were scattered during the cavalry charge. They wander the forests together, discussing various political and social changes ongoing in the United States at the time and openly wondering if they'll ever see home again and "why we're fighting over this God-forsaken forest." The men are ambushed and several of Meriweather's men are killed.

The fighting intensifies near the river and Nansett begins to consider a retreat. Casualties pile up and McGovern is killed during a dynamite attack against an American defensive position. Nikolay personally reports to Anasenko and questions why the assault against the Americans is as brutish as it is - Anasenko replies that it is the only way to win the war, and explains that difficult decisions had to be made. Rogers and Meriweather reach the field of battle and are separated - Meriweather is later seen to be killed by Alaskan soldiers. The battle begins to turn against the Americans after an apparent victory, and Nikolay and his men bravely take the railroad bridge back towards Sahalee, trapping many Americans in a massacre, although Nikolay himself is killed holding the bridge against an American counterattack.

On the final day of the battle, a poorly reinforced American defense is assaulted by Sergeyev's cavalry and the Americans are pushed towards the lone bridge back to Sahalee. While they manage to hold the bridge, in part thanks to Rogers' impromptu leadership of a company whose captain has been killed, part of the bridge is heavily damaged and separates the Americans on the bridge from their compatriots on the north side of the river. Thousands of Americans attempt to flee into the river, where they are shot, dynamited or drowned. The bridge catches on fire and Rogers is forced to leap into the river, where he is pulled under by the current.

Nansett, still trapped on the peninsula, attemtps to flee west towards a smaller crossing to the town of Wamash. He is intercepted by some of Anasenko's men and several Indians, however, and his detail is killed. He is executed after saying his final prayers.

Rogers drifts ashore after floating out into Puget Sound, covered in blood. He removes his clothes and wanders down the beach, staring at distant majestic mountains and islands. In the final scene, Ivan watches Anasenko standing in the middle of the battlefield, and thinks he sees a single tear roll down Anasenko's face. The camera pans out away from the carnage towards the more pristine, unspoiled mountains nearby, with title cards describing the casualties of the battle.

Production

Reception

Critical Reception

Burrard opened in selected theaters in September of 2005 to widespread critical acclaim. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun called it, "A game changer, not unlike to this generation in terms of scope and weight as what Oahu represented to the unexpecting souls that braved the horrors of war in 1962." Fred Steele of the New York Times gave it five out of five stars, writing, "Jerry Patterson spits in the face of Hollywood glitz and CGI and shows you what a big budget, coupled with good actors, can actually accomplish. This is not a summer action movie; it gets down and dirty, and is a violent, horrifying look at the nature of war itself." Annita Simmons referred to it as, "Not just a movie about a war, or about the Alaskan War, but a film about War with a capital 'W,' a film that attempts to interpret what war is like, why it is fought, and how it affects the people caught in the middle." George Boyne called it, "A modern masterpiece, an epic tale in the vein of Fall of the Romanovs in its scope, Oahu in its ambition and The Jungle in its psychological instillation of fear." Darnell Fox of the Black Press: "Burrard is a horror movie in the sense that it bombards you in an uncomfortable way with the realities of combat and then leaves you gasping for breath every five minutes or so. It is an endless portrait of violence painted against a meticulous canvas of strong actors and a nightmarishly calm forest setting for its brutality."

Many critics lauded the strong central performance of Bradley Cooper; "In a star-making performance, career television support Cooper plays the perfect audience surrogate, a wide-eyed former pastor who doesn't know one end of the gun from the other," was the praise given by Frank Ratta. Another critically lauded performance was that of Yuri Petranov as Boris Anasenko. "Petranov, though he has few scenes, brings a fiery intensity to the role that few others could have sustained, creating a sympathetic butcher who loves his soldiers and hates his superiors. His expressions and postures tell all his tales."

In Alaska, the film was distributed by Teknograf Films and to stay true to the tone of the American film, the Alaskan release removed subtitles during Russian dialogue but chose to not dub over the English dialogue, as is often done in Alaskan releases, instead subtitling it to maintain the aura of a foreign-sounding enemy.

Alaskan Premier Vladimir Putin attended the premiere in Aleksandrgrad and stated that he thought the film was a masterpiece, although the film received a much more mixed reception in Alaska than in the United States. Yuri Feodorov said that while the performances were strong, "the film is a revisionist history which makes one of history's greatest military strategists a thug and turns one of the most stunning and unpredictable decisive victories into an unapologetic bloodbath." Many Alaskan critics agreed with the assessment of historical accuracies, feeling that the film chose to portray the Americans as incompetent fools in the face of an opportunistic enemy, instead of the more historically accepted analysis that Anasenko's sound strategy at Burrard caught the better-equipped and larger American force off guard.

Box Office

Awards and Nominations

Burrard was a runaway winner in several different award shows; it swept all Best Picture awards it was nominated for, including the Screen Actors Guild, Film Critics, Golden Globes, English Film Association, and Academy Awards. The film's Russian-language dub won two Best Picture Awards in Alaska, where it was the highest-grossing film of all time.

Jerry Patterson also earned several Best Director Awards for his work, including at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards, and both Bradley Cooper and Yuri Petranov received nominations at the Academy Awards, and Petranov won for Best Supporting Actor.

Controversy

The Alaskan-American Society boycotted the film and protested what they called a portrayal of Alaskans as "bloodthirsty killers" and cited gross historical inaccuracies meant to glorify Anasenko as a paragon of virtue and his commanders as insubordinate murderers, when in fact they claimed it was Anasenko who dreamed up the plan of assaulting the Americans so violently they would be unable to fight on. Many historians also agreed that while the portrayal of the chain of command and relationships between senior officers in the Alaskan military is accurate, the film glosses over Anasenko's adherence to the philosophy of warfare through instilling fear and the fact that he while he was a respected strategist within the military, most of the Alaskan leadership in Sitka regarded him as a hothead and, as the war dragged on, a liability unable to cope with a war of attrition.

The Alaskan-American Society also complained that the film ignored the prejudices of the Americans towards the Alaskans, including indiscriminate killings of Alaskan civilians in the region by the US Army, most notably the controversial incident in which American cavalry men are alleged to have hunted Alaskan farmers in the Fraser Valley for sport. Historians, however, note that by the time of the Battle of Burrard, most Alaskan settlers and, in fact, American civilians had fled north or south respectively to avoid being caught in the line of fire.

Cast

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