Once Were Warriors
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Beth Heke (Owen) is a strong-willed mother of five who’ll stop at nothing to protect and love her children. Her brutish husband Jake (Morrison) is an old-fashioned and out of control drunk who is tearing her world apart and making it impossible for them to have any hope of a bright future. Something’s gotta give…
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
This is about as perfect as a movie can get. From the description of the plot, the film doesn’t sound altogether different from your average woman-puts-up-with-years-of-abuse-to-finally-stand-up-to-her-louse-bastard-of-a-husband movie of the week. The difference being that Tamahori’s brilliant depiction of a family so rich in history, love and honor being polluted by a man whose sense of identity and pride is so warped and torn that he uses drink and violence to destroy the ones around him, makes you not only understand their struggle to free themselves from their present life, but makes you willingly commit yourself emotionally to the characters (good and bad). The director manages to weave a story so raw, shocking and devoid of any pretense or cliché that you invest yourself as much in the troubled Jake, as you do his battered wife and misguided kids.
Tamahori also masterfully reveals the poor, urban neighborhood of Aukland, New Zealand where the film takes place. Once more, the brutal reality of what life is like for the people living in that environment, with gang life and prejudice as rife as in jolly old Compton, helps to illustrate the difficulty, risk and bravery it takes to try to break free from that life. The few sub-plots involving the children only help to strengthen the story and the performances by the actors, across the board, are nothing short of mind-blowing. In short, there are hardly any films that are as compelling, raw and meaningful, while at the same time entertaining and inspirational, as ONCE WERE WARRIORS.
Among the many director’s commentaries that I’ve heard, Lee Tamahori’s audio commentary on this film is one of the best. Lee’s commentary is a very engaging, insightful and engrossing account of life in New Zealand, the Maori people (of which the Heke family in the film are descendants), the casting, filmmaking process and the overall adventure he had whilst making ONCE WERE WARRIORS. It’s a perfect companion piece to a movie that you’re surely to have hundreds of questions about.
A short Behind The Scenes featurette (~ 6 min.) is also included, which involves the cast & crew revealing the parts they played in bringing the film and their characters to life. As the film focuses mainly on the lives of the Maori people, the ancient and traditional tattoos they sport is of some interest, and so, a tattoo gallery, with optional commentary is also included for your viewing pleasure. Some trailers of the film and a DVD-ROM option round out the extras on this DVD.
Buy it, buy it and then buy another copy for your friends and family. I have yet to speak to anyone who’s seen this film who hasn’t given me the strongest of recommendations to see it. It’s a very realistic, original and important movie to be experienced and enjoyed time and again. This DVD package is also well rounded enough to satisfy even the pickiest of fans.