Tuesday, December 13, 2011

At the Movies with Bebb...Part Three...Once Were Warriors

Wednesday is Movie Review day at Bebb and the Bubs (as well as being one week to go until summer holidays!) I've been getting some great feedback from friends who have read my first two reviews and am enjoying writing them. I was planning to review another Australian movie today but realised that would be three Aussie movies in a row (I do love good Australian movies) so I decided to review a New Zealand movie instead. Next week I may even branch out further and move out of the region!

Jake Heke, of Maori descent (Temuera Morrison) seems, at first glance, to be a loving husband and father. He and his wife Beth (Rena Owen) live with their five children in what seems to be near-poverty, though our first sight of him has him surprising the children with fresh seafood and passionately embracing his wife. Very soon, however, we see that beneath the charm is an extremely violent man who does not hold back from using his fists on those around him, whether it be a man annoying him at the local pub where he spends much of his time, or his wife for being 'lippy'. Beth deals with her husband's violence by drinking and denying the abuse to herself and those around her, though the bruises are plain to see. Beth and Jake's oldest son, Nig, detests his father for his violence and drinking ways and seeks a new family unit in the form of a Maori gang he hopes to be initiated into. Their teenage son Boogie has been caught stealing cars and is removed from the family. Thirteen year old Grace cares for the younger children and escapes from the turmoil around her by writing stories. When a horrific event occurs, the already crumbling family begins to disintegrate further and tragedy and loss seem inevitable...

This movie is hard to watch, yet compelling viewing. I feel I should warn you that it merits its MA rating- some scenes are quite graphic and very violent and I found them very confronting.  Temuera Morrison delivers a solid, nuanced performance as the violent, brutal, tormented Jake. Rena Owen gives a slightly mixed performance as Beth- at times she delivers a very believable character and at times her performace seems slightly 'clunky' and wooden and comes across as slightly forced. There are a few other lesser characters that suffer the same problem, but overall the acting is fairly solid. Rena Owen's final speech, in which the significance of the title is explained, is one of the standout moments of her acting. Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell is heartbreaking as beautiful, sensitive Beth, and her performace will stay with you.

I do not know a great deal about Maori culture but my New Zealander husband assures me that the film paints an accurate picture of the ways of life for Maori gangs and those living below the poverty line in New Zealand. At times the movie seems that it will not recover from the dark events that we are shown, and it can be very, very dark indeed. Yet there are also moments of humour and a glimmer of hope among the blackness. See it if you are interested in New Zealand movies, or a gritty, confronting, hard hitting yet compelling film. Stay away if you can't handle scenes of graphic violence, particularly domestic violence. A haunting film that will stay with you and is worth watching despite the grim subject matter.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars


  1. Thank god for 'At the Movies with Bebb' as no Margaret and David tonight!! Why must all the good tv shows stop over Christmas?! When we actually have time and energy to enjoy them....?! Can't they just film lots in advance and then they can show them while they are on holidays?! Very rude me thinks! This movie looks very intriguing... May have to hire this and watch it over the Summer hols.... Which incidentally are almost here...! :-D
    MM xx

  2. We own it, so no need to hire it!