In a NZ western of the North American Indian-white settler school, Geoff Murphy has fashioned a fast-moving visual tale of archetypal passion and action. ‘Utu’ is the Maori word for ‘revenge’.
Central figure is rebel leader Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) during the wars between European settlers and the native Maoris in the late 19th century.
At first sympathetic to the European (pakeha) cause, Te Wheke turns guerrilla when his village is wiped out by British soldiers protecting the settlers. He retaliates in kind while recruiting supporters. As his actions become more despotic and cruel, he is hunted, captured and finally shot.
Murphy has produced powerful images and strong performances, particularly from Wallace, Wi Kuki Kaa (as Wirimu) and a big cast of Maori actors. Action sequences, special effects, and visual exploitation of a rugged, high country location in central New Zealand are superb.