Once Were Warriors directed by Lee Tamahori, was a very interesting film and overall, I enjoyed it. The film comes from New Zealand; I cannot say I have seen many films from there. I have seen The Piano and Rabbit Proof Fence although the latter of the two is from Australia. However of the three, my favorite was Once Were Warriors due to its plot and memorable characters. Essentially the film is about a family in New Zealand with ancestors who were Maori warriors. The family struggles with an alcoholic father, poverty, and domestic violence plays a very major role in the film.
The first character we meet is Jake Heke, played by Temuera Morrison (I had no idea he was Jango Fett.) Jake is introduced in a bar with his friends. He seems like an average guy, except for the fact that he is pretty muscular. The group enjoys listening to the live music. However another man in the bar begins to play music through the jukebox. This man is also muscular and is cursing off the people around him. Jake leaves his friends and fights the other man. This scene reveals that Jake is a good fighter and someone you don’t want to anger. The other man doesn’t even touch him and the act seemed somewhat just. Jake then invites people over to his house for a party. Here we learn that Jake’s son Boogie has a court date tomorrow and his mother Beth, played by Rena Owen, will be taking him. The party seems normal and the camera keeps cutting between the party downstairs and the kids upstairs. Beth and Jake sing together and even seem to be a loving couple. But Jake asks Beth to cook for one of her friends. She refuses and Jake begins to violently beat her. This came off as very surprising and although Jake is a great fighter, I did not expect this. The next morning Beth misses the court date and has been badly beaten. Boogie is thrown into a juvenile center and although he despises it at first, he connects with his roots, learning tribal chants. Grace is left alone at the house and things slowly get worse and worse for her. Nig the eldest son also has his own story. Nig joins a tribal gang but it was somewhat forgettable. The only real memorable part with Nig is his gang initiation and facial tattoos.
Essentially, Jake is the major conflict of the film and he was the most memorable character. I like Jake because his character is constantly fluctuating. One moment he’s vicious and the next he’s completely calm. For instance the morning after Beth was beaten, the two talk. Jakes comments are rude but he manages to seem comforting. “Come tell Jakey all your troubles,” he says. Beth tells him that she wants to have a picnic and Jake refuses at first but eventually throws money down on the table to rent a car. The two kiss and everything seems fine. Everything still seems fine when they are out driving. The whole family, with the exclusion of Nig, sing as they go for a Sunday drive. When the Hekes stop at a graveyard, Jake’s temper gets the best of him. Later he stops at the bar, telling his family that he only wants one drink, but completely blows off the whole arrangement. You never know what Jake is going to do and that is why he was one of my favorite characters.
With the absence of Boogie, terrible things happen to Grace. Her father rips her journal and one of her father’s friends rapes her. The rape came off as a surprise to me. Again I was not expecting it. You’d think this girl couldn’t have any more problems yet things get worse and worse. As for her suicide it was a little cliché. It was clear Grace had nowhere to run, literally. Her friend made a move on her after she had just been raped and home was much more dangerous than the streets. But the second the she looked at the tree, I knew she was going to hang herself. Other than Jake, Grace’s predicaments make the movie memorable.
I really did enjoy this movie. Unfortunately there were some characters that were forgettable but others, like Jake stole the show. I love the ending and Jakes reaction is hilarious and terrifying. I also like how the movie just abruptly ends. We here sirens approaching but we don’t actually see what happens to Jake. It just abruptly ends with him on the sidewalk outside the bar. This is a nice touch to the film because you don’t actually see what happens to Jake but you can only assume he will be punished and he deserves it.