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ONCE WERE WARRIORS, 1994
Movie Reviews!

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ONCE WERE WARRIORS, 1994 MOVIEONCE WERE WARRIORS, 1994
Movie Reviews

Directed by Lee Tamahori

Starring Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison, Julian Arahanga, Cliff Curtis and Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell

Review by Russell Hill

SYNOPSIS:

Set in urban Auckland (New Zealand) this movie tells the story of the Heke family. Jake Heke is a violent man who beats his wife frequently when drunk, and yet obviously loves both her and his family. The movie follows a period of several weeks in the family's life showing Jake's frequent outburst of violence and the effect that this has on his family. The youngest son is in trouble with the police and may be put into a foster home while the elder son is about to join a street gang. Jake's daughter has her own serious problems which are a key element in the plot.

REVIEW:

A film not for the faint hearted, I first saw this movie whilst studying at University. I didn’t know anything about it, other than it was made in New Zealand and suitable for over 18’s. However, by the films conclusion, I found that I had witnessed an excellent movie which is not easy to watch whatsoever.

Just like the Incredible Hulk, Jake (Morrison) isn’t the type of guy you want to piss off. A down and outer who finds getting drunk with his idiot friends at the local bar where other fools go to get drunk off state benefits, he has a wonderful family and several kids who love him.

Well, they could love him if throughout the years he hadn’t beaten up their Mum Beth (Owen) so much and treated them all as though they were something he had found on the bottom of his shoes. Being the oldest of the children, Grace (Kerr-Bell) and Nig (Arahanga) take it the worst and try to help their mother out in the best way they can, as they do with their younger siblings who often look past the domestic hell which Jake creates with his moronic buddies such as Bully (Curtis). I shall not divulge how the film concludes, but I must warn you that if you are of a nervous disposition than I strongly recommend you to look away at its very end.

The one element of this movie I will divulge is that there is violence. And a lot of it too. As this is a movie, I understand that the fights between Jake and Beth are choreographed, but when Beth is being pummelled as though she is a boxing bag you really do wince. But, there are other elements to this film other than violence which make it a classic.

Beth is the main reason for watching this movie. Some of the greatest films have shown strong heroines who somehow survive amongst oppression normally by men or groups of them. How on Earth she takes those types of beatings is beyond me, and what with thousands if not millions of other women suffering the same type of abuse by their partners or loved ones across the world is something I would not wish on my closest enemy. And it is due to Rena Owen for giving a performance worthy of Oscar or Golden Bear status that we as the audience believe the events to be actually happening.

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In nearly every film, there must be a baddie. In the case of this movie, Jake is that and what a marvellous job Temuera Morrison does. His muscles bigger than most but brain about the size of a chickens, he does not see the harm he is causing his family as abhorrent in any way at all, and it seems that at times he enjoys beating his wife and scaring his family to death. Just like the casting of Beth, he really does a fine job of portraying the role to the best it could possibly be. I understand that this is a movie, but his portrayal was that good that I certainly wouldn’t like to pick a fight with him.

But it not just Temuera and Rena who give fine performances, but also Kerr-Bell and Arahanga. Kerr-Bell plays Grace, and her nervous character who tries to calm her younger siblings down when their mother is being beaten by reciting her poetry is lovely. However, her demise in the movie is not easy viewing at all and emotional to say the least but acts it in such a way that you honestly and truly believe what happens to Grace has happened in reality and not on a movie set.

Arahanga too does marvellously. The rebel in the family, he does not show fear when confronting his father and tries to defend them when needed. He is the James Dean character, and tries his best to upstage his father by making a name for himself in the community when others around him are doing the exact opposite. A wonderful performance by someone so young and I am glad to read on www.imdb.com that he has been in regular work since this movie’s release, most notably in “The Matrix” as Apoc.

This movie really is a classic, but is one which should only be viewed by adults. The themes in which it deals with are not your typical, run of the mill ones but serious issues which affect countless numbers every year across the world. And for those issues to be tackled in a mature and serious way should be applauded, not avoided. To be quite honest, it should be done more often and hopefully this film will contribute towards the issues which it discusses appearing on several more movies in the not too distant future.

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ONCE WERE WARRIORS