“Once were warriors” left me with a weird feeling. A feeling of triumphing even though I have no connection to these characters at all. We witness a story about a family on the edge of dissolving. The mother Beth does her best to handle her abusive husband and keep her children safe, but sometimes she just do not accept his obnoxious behavior. These incidents results in him being outraged and there are multiple heated scenes where they are having verbal fights. Their first argument comes like a shock, because they do seem like a normal happy family struggling to get by in a lousy neighborhood. They do not mention a specific location, but we understand that it takes place on New Zealand for several reasons like the tribe their middle son joins when he goes to penitentiary, Beth’s Maori heritage and the fact that her family lives within driving range.
Beth’s culture is a huge part of the film, as she withstands the constants threats from her husband and emerge as a proud, strong woman.
Yet there are more elements playing a role in this story. Their youngest daughter is striving with the thought of adulthood and the middles son is heading towards juvenile custody, and their oldest son is joining a brutal gang, the reasoning for this is unknown. One could guess that he has learnt strength from both his mother and father. At one point, it even looks as if a fight could break out between father and son in a bar, but the boy knows better. He even lies about his father’s identity to his fellow gang members, suggesting embarrassment over his violent, alcoholic dad.
Jake (father) comes from a generation of slaves and struggles to set his family before his need of alcohol and violence. There is close to nothing to hear about his family, and it is hard to catch if they still live and/or if he still has contact with them.
There are several powerful breathtaking moments in this movie; their splendid acting makes the whole thing honest and legitimate, there are weaker “joints” in the group but all together they are reliable.
One of the strongest moments in the movie is when Jake is antagonized and holds Beth up against the wall with a chilling look in his eyes, then she tells him something like; you have always been a slave, slave to drinking and slave to your fists.
Surprisingly this does not follow up with him beating her more, just a punch to the wall to assert dominance, as always.
The daughter in the middle, the one having struggles growing up and accepting adulthood is raped by the “Uncle” during one of the parties her father brought home.
He tells her to keep quiet and so she does. This leads to her having troubles and feeling helpless, and when she tries to talk to her father, he is too drunk to be anything but annoying. Feeling as lost as she does, she goes out to the backyard and hangs herself from the tree we see her swinging in one of the opening scenes.
The mother leaves the father and discovers the journal her daughter wrote, reveling the rape. She goes straight to the bar where her husband obviously is hanging out with the uncle and shows him the pages; he outrages and stabs the uncle with broken glass, probably killing him. The police arrive and we jump with joy, as the “bad guys” are gone.
A powerful film with a sorrowful story finishes with the only justiciable ending for the mother and her kids.