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New Zealand 1994
Directed by
Lee Tamahori
102 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Once Were Warriors

Lee Tamahori’s debut feature, based on an acclaimed novel by Alan Duff, is an extraordinarily powerful depiction of contemporary Maori dispossession, the stark cinematography and intensely-focused direction faultlessly conjoined with the brutality of the subject matter depicted without flinching, indulgence or sentimentality.

Jake and Beth Heke (Temurea Morrison and Rena Owen) are Maori living in a slum in Auckland. Jake's alcoholism with its attendant violent outburst has destroyed their family.  Nig (Julian Arahanga), Jake's oldest son, has turned his back on his father and joined a gang of Maori youths. Jake's 13-year-old daughter Grace (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell) prefers to spend her time with her drug-addicted boyfriend . And Boogie (Taungaroa Emile) ends up in juvenile detention when his father fails to show up to speak on his behalf.

Once Were Warriors is harrowing both because of the violence shown and the knowledge that it refers to real conditions. Unlike Australia’s Aborigines, who have experienced similar dispossession, the Maoris are a war-like people. But with no tribal wars to fight their aggression is played out in the home and in pubs

In the leads Morrison and Owen are outstanding in a film that is compelling precisely because it is pitiless in its portrayal of a people lost. Only insofar as it offers a crowd-pleasing hope for redemption does it slip into the conventional.although this no doubt helped it become the huge hit that it was in its native New Zealand.




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