Whale Rider (2002)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama, Childhood Drama, Feminist Film  |   Release Date - Jun 6, 2003 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 115 min.  |   Countries - Germany , New Zealand   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Andrea LeVasseur

Beautiful underwater photography and an excellent lead performance from Keisha Castle-Hughes make Whale Rider a heartfelt drama with a spiritual core. The ancient tale of Paikea is felt throughout this well-worn story line, refreshing with images of cool blue water and nuanced with intricate tribal carvings and tattoos. Though set in present day, Hughes exudes a timeless quality with both the powers of a mystic and the devotion of a little girl. As her beloved and stern grandfather, Rawiri Paratene is effectively blinded by pride so that he can't see the answer is right in front of him. Their bond is a strong and subtle one as they each possess a strong-willed independence that yearns to be tested. Vicky Haughton holds things together emotionally as the nurturing grandmother, and Grant Roa provides the modern alternative to chiefdom as the lazy Uncle Rawiri, although he too gets a chance at redemption. The colorful costumes, makeup, and skin markings are well rendered, especially when placed in the context of the poignant scene at Pai's cultural program at school. The ethereal soundtrack by Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance sets the otherworldly mood while also making the slow pace more tolerable. It's worth noting that the New Zealand dialect of English is difficult to understand at times, but the images are so powerful that some lost dialogue doesn't detract much from the story.