Once Were Warriors (1994) Film Movement Classics Blu Ray Review
A hard look at contemporary Maori culture, circa 1994, Once Were Warriors is a vibrant, stylish but heavily grounded indie film that has clearly lasted the test of time, and will continue to do so, thanks to great direction by Lee Tamahori and indelible performances by everyone in the cast.
A family descended from Maori warriors is bedeviled by a violent father and the societal problems of being treated as outcasts.
A family of seven Maoris lives in a low rent tenement complex in New Zealand, and the low-income area gives rise to petty crime and a general sense of misrule amongst its citizens. The father is a fierce and short-tempered man named Jake (Temura Morrison), who is laid off his job and has much more time to drink beer with his buddies than he should. His wife is a strong willed matriarch named Beth (Rena Owen), who clearly has too much to handle with her five sons and daughters, the oldest of which has just joined a gang, and the second eldest is assigned to state care due to multiple infractions with the law. Their oldest daughter is only 13, but it becomes her job to protect the youngest kids from their parents’ volatile relationship with each other, and when Jake loses his temper, Beth is likely to be beaten to within an inch of her life. With drunken parties going on in their apartment all night long most days of the week, these kids are going to need a fighter amongst them to help them out of their desperate situation.
A hard look at contemporary Maori culture, circa 1994, Once Were Warriors is a vibrant, stylish but heavily grounded indie film that has clearly lasted the test of time, and will continue to do so, thanks to great direction by Lee Tamahori and indelible performances by everyone in the cast. It’s no wonder that Tamahori would be plucked up by Hollywood to make big budget films or that Owen and Morrison would go on to prolific acting careers. This is one of a handful of indie films that came out in the mid-’90s that deserves lifelong recognition because it’s a powerful piece of work.
Released on blu ray by Film Movement Classics, Once Were Warriors looks excellent in high definition, and the disc comes with a behind the scenes featurette and an insert booklet with an essay. It’s absolutely worth owning.