A huge hit in New Zealand, where it surpassed JURASSIC PARK's box-office take, ONCE WERE WARRIORS is a fairly conventional look at lives blighted by poverty and cultural disenfranchisement. Still, it's hard-hitting stuff, and a welcome antidote to the sentimentalized picture of the
Maoris--New Zealand's indigenous people--in 1993's THE PIANO.
The film opens with an image of New Zealand countryside that seems too placid and beautiful to be true. It is: the shot widens, and we're looking at a billboard in the middle of a squalid slum inhabited by urbanized Maoris. Proud, stubborn Beth Heke (Rena Owen) is making the best of a bad
marriage to sexy, brutal ne'er-do-well Jake (Temuera Morrison). They have five children, no car, and a rundown house in a shabby neighborhood; what passes for fun is pub crawling and marathon drinking parties that frequently end in violence. When Jake loses his job and goes on the dole, their
fragile family disintegrates with terrifying speed. Jake beats Beth, eldest son Nig (Julian Arahanga) joins a brutal gang, and adolescent Boogie (Taungaroa Emile) is placed in a group home for troubled boys. Thirteen-year-old Grace (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell), a shy dreamer, tries to shield her
younger siblings from the chaos around them, but herself becomes its victim.
There's little new here, but uniformly powerful performances (especially Owen's) give the tale unexpected power and depth, and the exotic details--like the elaborate tribal tattoos worn by Nig's gang, or the Maori chants Boogie learns in reform school--make the Heke family's descent into misery
seem fresher than it otherwise might.
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: A huge hit in New Zealand, where it surpassed JURASSIC PARK's box-office take, ONCE WERE WARRIORS is a fairly conventional look at lives blighted by poverty and cultural disenfranchisement. Still, it's hard-hitting stuff, and a welcome antidote to the sent… (more)