Review: ‘Once Were Warriors’

The barren lives of members of an urban Maori family are rigorously exposed in this rugged and painful picture, based on Alan Duff's novel, which was a Kiwi bestseller. It's one of the best to emerge from New Zealand in quite a while.

The barren lives of members of an urban Maori family are rigorously exposed in this rugged and painful picture, based on Alan Duff’s novel, which was a Kiwi bestseller. It’s one of the best to emerge from New Zealand in quite a while.

First-time director Lee Tamahori has done a marvelous job in depicting the day-to-day horror of the Heke family, which is held together only by its women, the sorely tried Beth and her eldest daughter, 16-year-old Grace. Beth comes from a noble Maori family, who disapproved of her marriage to Jake Heke some 18 years earlier.

Out of work, he spends his welfare money boozing at a bar with his mates and getting into fights, and he regularly brings a crowd home for more drinking and eating. Jake’s fiery temper has estranged him from eldest son Nig, who has left home to join a tough street gang; the younger children despise him, too, because he regularly beats Beth when he’s drunk.

Pic would be unrelentingly downbeat if not for the magnetic performances of the lead players and for the fact that, despite the drinking and violence, the relationship between Beth and Jake is, against the odds, a warm one.

Once Were Warriors

New Zealand

Production

Communicado. Director Lee Tamahori; Producer Robin Scholes; Screenplay Riwia Brown; Camera Stuart Dryburgh; Editor Michael Horton; Music Murray Grindley, Murray McNabb; Art Director Michael Kane

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS. Extract of a review from 1994. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Rena Owen Temuera Morrison Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell Julian 'Sonny' Arahanga Taungaroa Emile Rachael Morris
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