Lee Tamahori’s social commentary gives some exposure to the plight of the Maori but more than anything it defined the struggle of minorities in former colonies. Jake (Temiera Morrison) and Beth (Rena Owen) are a Maori couple with 5 kids and married for 18 years. Stuck in the slums of Auckland, Beth is fighting to live in a world with a husband who is not unfamiliar with dishing out violence and abuse. Their kids lives are shifting and this instability is causing them to resent both. Their first son Nig (Julian Arahanga) has joined a gang. Their eldest daughter Grace (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell) wants to move out. Their 2nd son Boogie (Taungaroa Emile) was to be sent down for a series of burglaries but under a plea bargain, is given a sentence in a youth home. Through this both might find hope. Boogie might find a father figure and role model. Grace might find a better life, all of her own.
I saw this film in 1996 on a VHS copy. It left one determinable memory which I will not spoil for the unfamiliar but let me say for the person already familiar, it stings still. To the films qualities and there are a few I have to commend the following. It is acted superbly, sometimes with tenderness and other times with subtle range and character. Director Lee Tamahori directors with an eye for distance. Capturing the life of the people and not forcing them to be captured by the camera. It is also well scripted. Taking the original source material and enhancing its style into a coherent version of events.
However it is a melodrama and at heart bleak and troubling. It ask’s three very pivotal questions and gives answers which on reflection are unbalanced but potent. The first is about the role of ancestry. How you reconcile where you are from and where you are now. Its conclusion is that you cant. The second is what it means to be a man in a world of masculinity and power. Its conclusion here is profound. You cant be a man when you cant be in control. Power via force is fleeting. It is without power that you can become something else. You can become a man with a heart and a soul. The third is what it is to be a woman in an abusive relationship. This it resolves with the determined belief that all can be solved by an openness to change. Sadly it never seems to resolve this. That failure makes it weaker as a whole and in the end. The resonance and the memory you take away is based on a horrific event.
To this Blu Ray release
Well the film itself has been brushed up. It looks nicer than it did before. Colour pallete resonantes, crisp sky and rich deep browns and shadows excel the work of cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. The other extras are quite fun as well. The where are they now piece is like a return to the world. It makes for some delightful wow and no way. It makes the whole feel more interesting.
- ‘Once Were Warriors – Where Are They Now’
A documentary looking back at the film’s production and impact as well as re-uniting the cast 20 years later
- ‘Directing The Warriors’ – A new interview with Lee Tamahori