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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Maori urban life that New Zealand tourists never see.
In a film so hard-hitting that the viewer actually feels battered by the time it reaches its conclusion, a Maori family with five children must deal with urban violence, poverty, drugs, alcoholism, unemployment, gang warfare, rape, physical and mental abuse, suicide, and a host of other horrific family problems, all shown graphically. Beth and Jake Heke and their five...
Published on 8 Aug 2004 by Mary Whipple

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Scary Film
Watched this years ago and obviously got more sensitive over the years turned this off within 10mins; very violent and not one for me, but if you like a lot violence you will like it!
Published 15 months ago by Stacey


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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Maori urban life that New Zealand tourists never see., 8 Aug 2004
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
In a film so hard-hitting that the viewer actually feels battered by the time it reaches its conclusion, a Maori family with five children must deal with urban violence, poverty, drugs, alcoholism, unemployment, gang warfare, rape, physical and mental abuse, suicide, and a host of other horrific family problems, all shown graphically. Beth and Jake Heke and their five children, along with numerous other Maori families, live in an urban ghetto of government-supported housing, isolated from the rest of society and isolated, too, from their old rural culture, which once gave pride and a sense of identity to Maori families. Here in the city the prevailing "culture" centers around bars, rather than the ancient meeting houses.
Beth Heke (Rena Owen), the mother, loves her violent husband Jake (Temuera Morrison), despite his abuse of her when he is drunk, and she cares deeply about her children, but she is powerless to protect them or herself from Jake's rages. The oldest son (Julian Arahanga) is part of a street gang which covers their faces in traditional tattoos and uses their own violence for protection against others. Their sensitive second son Boogie (Taungaroa Emile) has been arrested for associating with car thieves. Most touching, however, is Gracie (unforgettably played by Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell), a thirteen-year-old beauty who is trying to lead a good life without any good examples to follow. Pathetically, she and the two youngest children are forced to "grow up early," accepting the horrors of their lives as "normal," while they try to survive any way they can.
The bold, raw language of Alan Duff's novel of the same name becomes part of Riwia Brown's script, and Lee Tamahori's direction brings this powerful, absorbing, and overwhelming story of human misery to life. Tamahori uses contrasts throughout to emphasize the themes and the differences between contemporary Maori urban life and traditional Maori culture. He uses haunting Maori music to begin the film, then switches to scenes of rap and rock, he alternates quiet visions of a Maori village with loud bar activity, he shows the sweetness of Gracie against the grim living conditions of her best friend Toot (Shannon Williams), and depicts Jake's violence in contrast to the family's need for calmer, more focused lives. The cinematography, too, emphasizes the contrasts, though most viewers will be too focused on the overwhelming emotionalism of the scenes to notice. Though I loved the book, I found the film even better--the characters as acted here are much more heart-wrenching than I ever could have imagined. Mary Whipple
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A film so powerful you will never forget it!, 10 Mar 2000
This film based on the novel by Alan Duff portrays the life of a New Zealand family being torn apart by alcoholism and violence. The films star Temuera Morrison better known in New Zealand as a doctor on Shortland Street plays a truly frightening role as "Jake the Muss" the Alcoholic father who uses violence to strike fear into his family. This film is a must see although be prepared for some graphic violence.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best movies I've seen., 17 Sep 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Once Were Warriors [DVD] [1995] (DVD)
Once were Warriors is a movies that, although it is specifically about the plight of the Maori people and particularly the Family of " Jake the muss " tells the story of many families in many different countries.It could quite easily be set in America, Ireland or England etc. The main thing that stands out for me in this film is its cultural aspect and the fact that through all the violence and desperation it is the Maori culture that gives hope. Each character finds his or her way back to their culture, except for Jake who through his denial of his culture and therefore denial of himself, remains lost and desperate.A BRILLIANT FILM.*****
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, Moving, Stunning - A Modern Classic, 6 Jan 2004
By 
Once Were Warriors is a film that will never leave you after viewing. It is the archetypal slice of life we can be educated from that only cinema can deliver so concisely. Is is often lorded as the most prolific examination of the Maori people and their confliction between traditional beliefs, traditions and behaviour and the reality of the modern world and family, but it is much more than that. It is hands down one of the most harrowing tales of domestic violence, and elicits a power which challenges and provokes.
The story is told on its own footing, with New Zealand production, direction and acting, and you really feel this sense of authenticity. It has a passion and intimacy with its subject matter than other films crave but cannot recreate.
The raw subject matter is complemented with straightforward, unflashy direction. The plot tackles many issues of family, growth, loyalty, responsibility and dissects them with a strong soul. The acting is one of the most amazing accomplishments of antipodean cinema. Temeura Morrision gaves one of the most incredible performances of modern cinema as Jake the Muss. His primeaval power on screen lights up the entire picture, while the subtlety, gutsy performances of Owen and Kerr-Bell add all the more pain and challenge upon its truely sad conclusion.
Its a must see picture, enjoyable on all levels is has both conscience and intelligence with its ferocity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rally good film, 18 Jun 2013
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This review is from: Once Were Warriors [DVD] [1995] (DVD)
Having been to New Zealand we wanted to see this film and we have watched it many times and lent it to others who found it a very powerful film. Wonderful acting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IN MY TOP TEN FILMS., 22 Feb 2013
This review is from: Once Were Warriors [DVD] [1995] (DVD)
Absolutely brilliant piece of New Zealand cinema.Tense,moving and absolutely brutal.Phenominal film.Also check out the sequel "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted"
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and Brutal, 30 Oct 2006
By 
R. Mullaney (Leeds, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Once Were Warriors [DVD] [1995] (DVD)
Once Were Warriors is a bold and powerful portrayal of domestic violence and poverty in a New Zealand housing project. Temuera Morrison puts in a mesmerising performance as Jake 'The Muss' Heke, a violent drunk seemingly destined to destroy himself and anyone close to him. Rena Owen plays his Maori born wife who is subjected to his abuse in some of the films most unsettling scenes. Together, the couple have two teenage sons, both budding gangsters, a teenage daughter, Grace and two small children. Their fathers drunkeness and inability to control his temper is tearing the family apart and when one of his deadbeat mates subjects Grace to a humliating sexual assault she commits suicide. Her death is the catalyst that forces her mother to leave Jake and go back to her Maori family.

The film is intense and upsetting but also quite brilliant. All the lead characters are talented actors, especially Morrison who is terrifying in parts. It's a shame that the sequel (What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?) could not capture the raw realism of this excellent film.

Like this? Try: Nil By Mouth
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Often brutal but always moving, 14 Feb 2005
By 
This review is from: Once Were Warriors [DVD] [1995] (DVD)
This film is not for the faint hearted or squeamish. It is brutal, cruel, and downright violent, especially in its portrayal of domestic abuse.
Rena Owen gives a superb performance as the wife of a habitually violent husband who turns a blind eye to her man's inability to control his temper or provide for his family. However her world is steadily crumbling around her ears, and tragic change is in the air. Her family is disintegrating. One of her son's is already in prison; the other is about to join a gang. Her eldest daughter Grace is a gifted young woman but the atmosphere at home is crippling her, and she is soon to be victim of a vicious assault by a friend of her father's. Unable to cope the young girl commits suicide but she leaves a record of the assault in her diary. And in doing so sets off a chain of events that will result in her mother striking out and turning her back on a life of abuse that she and her children have suffered for so long.
This is a film about a family at war with itself and within society. Set in New Zealand with a mainly Maori cast it shows life at its rawest and most debased, but all the time hope shines through, and a young woman remembers when her people "once were warriors" and not just the dregs of an indifferent society. Despite the violence this film is beautifully crafted, well written and totally believable. Hold your breath for the scene when Grace's father goes on the rampage, it has to be seen to be believed.
A fantastic film that is a testament not only to life in New Zealand but also in other supposed civilised countries.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars heart wrenching, 13 Jan 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Once Were Warriors [DVD] [1995] (DVD)
This tale is beautifully shot, beautifully scripted, fantastically acted and a real heart wrenching watch.
I can't add much to the other reviews regarding the film, which itself deserves 6 stars, but I feel I am only able to award the DVD edition 4 stars as the extras are pretty poor, and really don't add a great deal to the experience.
[Refers to Region 3 version]
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, 21 Mar 2000
By A Customer
I started to watch this film not knowing what to expect. What I saw was truly amzing. It is not a film you can really connect with because of its violent nature, but it does effect and shock you in a big way. The performances by all the cast are truly fantastic especially the actress who plays the vulnerable daughter, Grace. behind the obvious violence of this film, there is a strong message of hope.
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Once Were Warriors [DVD] [1995]
Once Were Warriors [DVD] [1995] by Lee Tamahori (DVD - 1999)
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