Once Were Warriors (1994)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Marriage Drama, Family Drama  |   Run Time - 103 min.  |   Countries - New Zealand   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Michael Betzold

Films as honest and unforgiving as Once Were Warriors are rare. Many filmmakers espousing the stories and causes of oppressed minorities tend to glamorize the people they are promoting; not so New Zealand's Lee Tamahori. In his feature film debut, Tamahori throws an intense glare on the violent, alcoholic life of a Maori family, never bringing judgment or excuses to the story, based on a novel by Alan Duff. For her role as a woman buffeted by her drunken husband and her angry, bawdy, gangster son, Rena Owen was honored with a best actress award at the Montreal World Film Festival in 1994. Once Were Warriors is not easy to watch; Tamahori makes few compromises for the sake of entertainment in this bold, sometimes joyless, but finally exhilarating tale of overcoming poverty and social backwardness. The rough, raw footage is especially impressive considering that, a mere year later, Tamahori came to Hollywood and directed the slick, engaging, and persuasively American neo-noir thriller Mulholland Falls.